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Heading South to Explore North Carolina

Visiting the (Actual) Cubs

sunny 25 °C

Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Biltmore, sunset dinner in Asheville
- Day 2: Great Smoky Mountains hiking, dinner in Waynesville
 --> Clingmans Dome (loved these views): 1 mile starting from the parking area at the end of Clingmans Dome Road, fully paved, but extremely steep (well worth it for the views) – there are restrooms available, but no water
 --> Laurel Falls: 2.6 miles roundtrip starting between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and Elkmont Campground, very popular since you can swim at the base of the falls – no restrooms or water available aside from at the visitor center
 --> Cataract Falls: starts near the Sugarlands Visitor Center, mainly flat
- Day 3: Blue Ridge Parkway hiking, dinner in Marshall
 --> Craggy Gardens and Craggy Pinnacle (loved these views): Roughly 2 miles roundtrip and 1.4 miles roundtrip respectively, both are fairly steep, forested, and lead to beautiful views (watch out for roots, and bugs) – we parked in the picnic area and hiked up then returned to our car and drove to the Craggy Pinnacle designated parking lot. The Craggy Gardens visitor center and picnic center both have restrooms.
 --> Mt. Mitchell Summit: 1 mile roundtrip starting from the highest parking lot which takes you to the highest peak east of the Mississippi; it’s very steep but paved the whole way and there are porta potties and water fountains for public use
 --> Crabtree Falls (my favourite waterfalls): about 3 miles roundtrip; you can either go back the way you came, or take a different, slightly longer more scenic route back following the river; it starts off easy but becomes increasingly difficult with uneven paths and the need to hold on to a railing to find your footing on a crumbled staircase on the return; no facilities along the trail, but there is a campground about a mile from the parking lot, en route to the trailhead
- Day 4: Asheville (try Urban Trails self-guided tour), including the North Carolina (NC) Arboretum
Optional: Drive from Asheville to Chicago through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois

Where to Stay
- Best Western Smoky Mountain Inn, Waynesville ($100 USD)
- Marshall House Inn (B&B), Marshall ($150 USD)
- Wingate by Wyndham Fletcher at Asheville Airport ($80 USD)

Where to Eat
- Asheville: Tupelo Honey Café, The Chocolate Fetish, Well-Bred Bakery and Café
- Marshall: Zuma Coffee, Star Diner
- Waynesville: Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant, Kanini’s Restaurant, Third Bay – Filling Station
- Louisville, Kentucky: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint

My Travel Diary
North Carolina clearly hasn’t had the same publicists as Florida or California because growing up it wasn’t really on people's radar where I lived. There was no Disneyworld or Disneyland to dream of, and I’d never heard of the Great Smoky Mountains – only Smoky the Bear! But over the last few years Asheville has increasingly been the topic of travel talk; I’ve heard a lot about it being an open-minded oasis full of delicious local fare and surrounded by incredible mountain ranges. So, when deciding where to go on a five-day July getaway, my partner and I agreed on North Carolina. Full disclosure: it helped that the plane ticket prices were about $125 USD each roundtrip.

Before traveling anywhere, I always make sure to check the forecast. Once I’ve arrived, I always remember that meteorologists are fallible human beings. We were expecting three straight days of rain, including thunderstorms, so we planned accordingly; however, we only got sporadic showers. Regardless, we planned to spend our first day at Biltmore Estate because we could have a few hours indoors exploring the largest private residence in the U.S. We approached the house from the Diana Fountain at the top of a hill, such that we saw it increasing in size in contrast to the fading mountains behind it. The home, with its French Renaissance style, covers roughly four acres with 35 bedrooms, 43 washrooms, a bowling alley, and library with its own secret passageways.

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We spent roughly an hour and a half exploring the house, feeling more and more thankful by the minute that I’d never have the means to live in such a preposterously imposing house: there was a four-storey chandelier, a 90-foot room devoted entirely to tapestries (including one from the 1500s), and a 70 000-gallon indoor pool in the basement complete with underwater lighting at a time when many homes didn’t even have electricity yet. It’s well worth a visit not only to examine the architectural features (thanks to Richard Morris Hunt) and the landscape architecture (thanks to Frederick Law Olmsted), but also to reflect on the vast wealth disparity in the U.S. On the self-guided audio tour they made sure to emphasize that the estate was opened up to the public in the 1930s to try to increase tourism in the region and boost the local economy, while also being a major source of ongoing employment for locals.

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Although you could spend multiple days exploring the grounds at Biltmore, we booked our tickets for just one day and reserved a 3pm entry to the house. We started off by walking through the outdoor Library and South Terraces, savouring the shade and soaking up the stunning views of the mountains. We also happened to overhear an engagement proposal, although we were both so groggy from our flight that it didn’t register at first. The woman kept looking down at her hand and making an astonished face, so it finally clicked and I bluntly asked: “Did you just get engaged?” She shyly said yes, huge smile creeping across her face. I gushed over her ring and wished them all the best in their life ahead and then gave them some privacy.

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We strolled through the Shrub Garden, the Walled Garden, and the Rose Garden on our way to the Conservatory. I appreciated the diversity of plant life: from a bamboo forest to azalea gardens; and was incredibly impressed with the botanical model train display, fully functioning trains composed entirely of plant matter! We kept walking behind the conservatory, continuing on to the Bass Pond and Boat House with its own hidden waterfall – another prime proposal spot.

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Completed in 1895, the property included thousands of acres so it’s no surprise that the Vanderbilt family ultimately decided to start a dairy farm, winery, and now also own multiple hotels in the Antler Hill Village area. We didn't have time to hike or bike the many acres, but we did drive by the sunflower field and take in the art displays along with the educational exhibits. There’s also the adjacent Biltmore Village, which has historic cottages full of restaurants, cafes, and event spaces. We stopped there to fuel up at the Well-Bred Bakery and Café.

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We should have been more cognizant of our potential hanger when we packed for our hiking trips in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also hadn’t realized that it may be difficult to refuel, even with water, along the way. Driving to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I also regretted not budgeting time to explore Cherokee – a town governed by the Cherokee Nation with a nice river, cute restaurants, and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Instead, we ventured on to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to get hiking early. While there, I was able to purchase water from a vending machine and use their restroom, while also picking up two paper guides: one devoted to day hikes and a Great Smoky Mountains trail map. It was only $2 for 2 of them! I’d highly recommend coming in with paper maps and guides because the internet was unsurprisingly unreliable. From there we stopped at a few of the overlooks like Morton and Carlos Campbell before doing our first hike at the Clingman’s Dome (steep but stunning!).

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I’d recommend wearing a hat, taking sunscreen, and going at your own pace – we saw a few people overheating on the way up, so it’s always important to stop when needed. We ended up spending roughly an hour there, really taking in the sights. We also had a strange delay in that we had to step in and distract some bees that were terrorizing a young girl whose mother was clearly also afraid and keeping her distance. Once the bees had buzzed off and the family had fled, we were able to continue on our way. Our eyes loved every twist and turnoff the drive (although my motion sickness definitely didn’t) and it’s clear why they’re called the Great Smoky Mountains given the clouds so stoically seated atop the summits. Our next stop was at the Newfound Gap where we learned more about the history of the national park, the region, and got to officially stand half in Tennessee and half in North Carolina.

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We couldn’t find water anywhere and the washroom had signage indicating its water wasn’t potable, so we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center where they had water fountains as well as vending machines, but no food unfortunately. So that my belly growls didn’t get confused with bear growls, we diverted into Gatlinburg and grabbed lunch from Five Guys - mainly because it was cheap and easy protein. Gatlinburg itself is a tourist trap, overpriced with far too many neon signs, and I’m glad we didn’t stay there. We quickly headed back to the hills to hike more. We rounded off our day by hiking Laurel Falls, which took us roughly 90 minutes – my partner actually climbed down into the pool at the bottom for a quick dip. We found out that we had bearly missed a cub who had been spotted on the path; probably for the best because I’m sure a mama bear wouldn’t be too welcoming to tourists like us. Before leaving the park, we decided to walk the Cataract Falls trail from the Sugarlands Visitor Center, quick and easy but really pretty. If we were to do it all again, I’m not sure that I’d hike Laurel Falls – I’d consider trying Chimney Tops Trail instead, which is also popular but likely has better vantage points.

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In contrast, I’d love to revisit everything we did in the Blue Ridge Parkway. To begin with, we had the good fortune of seeing two bear cubs cross our path within about ten minutes of each other. We were in our car both times, otherwise I would have felt more like a not-so-happy meal and less like a happy observer. Fortunately, when we arrived at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Parking Lot no one was eating – bears or humans – so it was nice and quiet. We started our hike there so that we could get the ascent out of the way and have a breezier finish. The Craggy Gardens hike wasn’t overly challenging because the path was generally clear, but because it was steep at times, I took it slow. There was enough space to step to the side at times, but unfortunately, we still encountered some rude individuals. Maybe their attitude was a result of their hanger, we’ll never know. The hike itself was mainly through the forest without vantage points, but we did enjoy the rhododendrons and rock formations along the way. Once you arrive at the visitor center, the views are spectacular. Even more incredible are the views from the Craggy Pinnacle; however, I wouldn’t recommend walking to the trailhead from the visitor center – it’s much better to drive down the road, through the tunnel, and park in the Craggy Pinnacle hike parking lot.

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The highest peak we reached was Mt. Mitchell. Although it’d be more impressive to say that we hiked the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, the truth is that we drove as far as we could in our rental car before begrudgingly huffing and puffing our way up to the 6684 ft. summit. It was a short climb, but a very, very steep one – more so than Clingmans Dome, and that’s saying something!

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A last-minute addition to our hiking agenda was Crabtree Falls. I hadn’t read about it in my research for the trip, but because I befriended a man on a motorcycle who recommended we visit Little Switzerland (long story) we changed our route and hiking plans. It turned out to be a blessing and a curse: Crabtree Falls were the most beautiful waterfalls on our trip by far, but Little Switzerland was about as authentic as Swiss Miss.

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In booking our accommodation, I chose to stay only in small towns rather than in Asheville proper. After two nights in Waynesville, about half an hour west of Asheville, we moved half an hour north of Asheville to Marshall. Between the two, I preferred Waynesville. It helped that there were more restaurants, cafes, and impressive views of the mountains. As with most small towns, we had to work around limited hours of service, which were greatly exacerbated by a labour shortage due to Covid-19. We felt that more acutely in Marshall, which only had two restaurants open for dinner when we stayed. The views from our incredible B&B (cannot recommend it highly enough) were far more appealing to us than sitting on a busy patio so we ordered take-out. We made the right decision because another guest at the B&B performed a live concert for us while we dined at dusk on the vast veranda.

Marshall:
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Waynesville:
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Surrounded by thriving small town life, we expected Asheville to be a more booming metropolis. In fact, it was bustling with tourists but had a fairly small, very walkable downtown. If you’re not in the mood to take a formal tour, then I highly recommend Asheville Urban Trail (https://www.exploreasheville.com/urban-trail/) because it outlines options for exploring Asheville with resources like a printable map, audio guide and even a scavenger hunt. I didn’t follow my own advice (typical teacher), so we ended up haphazardly wandering the town enjoying the architecture of the St. Lawrence Basilica and the Grove Arcade, chocolates at Chocolate Fetish, books at Malaprop Bookstore, vibe of Wall St. (couldn’t be more different to New York), and finally the Center for Craft on Broadway where we learned about women’s furniture and Asian-American artists (while basking in the glory of air conditioning).

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The highlight of our time in Asheville was actually meeting some of the incredible artists in the River Arts District like Andrea Kulish who makes Ukrainian pysanky eggs and Nadine Charlsen who shares my fascination with trains. There was something inspiring about not only seeing the artists at work, but also being able to safely interact with them (and Nadine’s adorable dog) at a time when connection can be harder to come by due to the pandemic. Sadly, we weren’t able to meet some of the other incredible artists whose work spoke to me like Kris Morgan for their light-hearted faraway scenes from Paris, Portugal and many other locales; and Angela Alexander, with her colourful portraits of animal life.

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Likely the safest social activity we engaged in was the socially-distant outdoor concert at the North Carolina Arboretum featuring Laura Thurston and Steve Newbrough. There was no additional cost for the live music, beyond the $16 entry fee to the arboretum. Sadly, we arrived too late to really hike the extensive grounds. But we had plenty of room to enjoy the acoustic guitar and unique vocals, and because the sound traveled so well, we were even able to walk through multiple gardens while still enjoying the sound. The Quilt Garden was an homage to the handiwork of the people in Appalachia, incorporating designs and bold colours into a patchwork garden. Nearby, a statue of the famous Frederick Law Olmsted stands approvingly.

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By the time we left Asheville we felt like we’d packed as much as possible into a very short time; we were satiated, but also excited to return in a different season for new perspectives and to learn more about the regional cultures: Appalachian and Indigenous. It turned out that it would be harder than we thought to go home. We arrived at the airport in advance of our 7 am flight only to learn that our flight was departing from Gate A12, yet the airport only held gates 1-7. Once we solved the mystery of translating North Carolina gates into Midwestern ones, we safely boarded the flight. Soon after, there was a ruckus beside us because Allegiant had overbooked and multiple people were assigned to the exact same seat. Next step? Mechanical failure. So, as quickly as we had boarded, we were told to disembark. I was drugged by this point, partially to lessen my motion sickness and partially to help my newfound anxiety, so I barely understood what was happening. All I knew was that I had taken medication to help with movement and I was suddenly shockingly still and stranded. My partner had set off to find reliable internet and search for new flights, while I tried to decipher what the airport attendant’s announcements actually meant. She had, at first, indicated that the next flight wasn’t until Monday (this was Friday) and had then listed the nearest airports in case we could find (1) private transit there; and (2) flights from there back to the Midwest. She then changed course and clarified that there was a slight possibility that the mechanical failure could be resolved by a system reset, in which case we may be able to fly out within a few hours. Unwilling to wait, I started looking for rental cars. There were none. Given that my partner had work the next day, we didn’t have much room for failure so I proposed that we go back in person to the rental car agency we had just returned a car to and see if they’d take pity on us and let us re-rent our beloved Kia. It worked.

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And thus began our unexpected thirteen-hour drive from Asheville to Chicago. Well, to be honest, our first stop was returning to our hotel for our complimentary continental breakfast. Fueled up (on multiple counts), we then set off. The mountain drives were stunning, including the Daniel Boone Forest. My favourite stops were: Berea, Kentucky which has a booming folk art culture including a visitor center right near the highway (buy the bourbon balls!) and Martin’s Bar-B-Que in Louisville, Kentucky (highly recommend the brisket tacos!). Driving through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and then Illinois was not how we planned to end our “relaxing” getaway, but it was worthwhile. I learned about Kentucky’s art and that for just $50 you can board a five-storey replica of Noah’s Ark. Personally, I’d rather spend the money on chocolate-covered bourbon, but to each their own. While driving through the region, we also saw plenty of ads for Jesus and guns (sometimes on the same billboard), but one really stood out: “gun control: buying one when you want two”. We couldn’t very well leave the South without at least a couple of stereotypes being reinforced, could we? On that note, I’ll mention too that we passed by Colonel Sander’s original Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky. It turns out that he was a real man, not just a cartoon conspiracy!

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We traveled with ease through the region and really enjoyed the solid infrastructure, well-maintained roads, and friendly faces we encountered along the way. Even our unexpected thirteen-hour drive home ended up being a welcome opportunity to see more of the South – especially the bumpy landscape and delicious food!

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Posted by madrugada 00:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains churches art buildings animals chocolate rain architecture cities nature hiking vacation scenery summer rural usa tennessee forest beauty bbq eating cafes gatlinburg botanical_gardens kentucky blue_ridge_parkway american_history indiana arboretum north_carolina asheville marshall safe_travel waynesville scenic_road_trip coronavirus lush_greenery social_distance great_smoky_mountains illinoiswaterfalls Comments (0)

Deep South

Roadtrippin' through South Carolina and Georgia

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I traveled down south with a number of assumptions in mind, and the first one that shattered was the climate. Let me say this loud and clear: the deep south is not perpetual summer. We arrived April first in Atlanta and like some cruel April Fool's Day prank, it felt colder than Toronto. Sadly, I didn't have a parka but fortunately our Thrifty rental car (a Jeep) had heated seats. Our car was fine, but the parking situation in Atlanta was not. We ended up parking outside of the city core and walking or taking an Uber everywhere. Fortunately, the walk to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park was long but interesting because we got to explore his old neighbourhood. The best thing about Atlanta was learning about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life, including his theological training and the context that he grew up in. We complemented the civil rights learning with corporate propaganda through visits to Coca Cola World and CNN World. The one benefit of Coca Cola World was the sugar high that came through taste tasting soda pop from all over the world. In so doing, I discovered that Italy's beverage Beverly by far had the most disturbing taste while South Africa's pinenut and Sweden's lingonberry colas were the tastiest.

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Anyone who's been to Georgia or South Carolina knows that you'll find fantastic BBQ. My absolute favourite BBQ dish is brisket, which is also my favourite Jewish dish so it made sense that we found a Jewish deli called General Muir in Emory Village - a very nice area of Atlanta. The delicious dishes here were just an indication of tasty times ahead as we drove through Savannah and smaller towns. In fact, our next stop after Atlanta was Savannah. We used Google Maps to navigate our road trip and every day mapped out where we would be. We were so spontaneous that even though we had initially included North Carolina in the itinerary we fell in love with Savannah and decided to backtrack there.

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As with any good road trip, part of the fun came from the detours and the stops. Our first stop was at a gas station between Atlanta and Savannah. This is where I was greeted by a display of grenades, knives and toy guns for sale. I promptly returned to the car and waited for my boyfriend (away from all possible weapons and NRA propaganda). From my front-row seat I was able to watch a man in a cowboy hat and boots leave the gas station with a brown bag full of alcohol (some of which was sticking out), and walk into the woods. This man had somehow appeared at a gas station in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle and promptly retreated to the woods to continue his drunken cowboy'ing in peace.

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Reading "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" may provide insight into the south and particularly Savannah's quirks, but being there really wakes you up to its unique identity. I've never seen an American city that's so pedestrian-friendly. Rather than relying on cars, the city is built around green squares/plazas full of beautiful Spanish-moss covered oak trees and warm benches. The design of Savannah can be attributed to James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia. He was the one who decided to create a ward-based system in Savannah (centered around squares/plazas). We learned a lot about Oglethorpe through a free walking tour led by Chuck Norras (yes, he pronounced it like the legend himself). Chuck taught us about the original rules of Georgia: no Jewish people, no Catholic people, no lawyers, and no slavery. We learned about how each of those rules was then broken, and even walked by a former burial plot that had been given to Jewish people in Savannah (although it's now a highway).

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We also did a haunted walking tour with Cobblestone Tours. Our guide, Jason, was animated and tried to keep to the script, but I feel it may have been challenging given that we were a group of... two! It turned out no one else had signed up for the walking tour aside from my boyfriend and I. We had a private tour of the city, including Colonial Park Cemetery (where we learned about Button Gwinnett and the Civil War); Old Sorrel Weed House which is featured on various paranormal TV programs; Johnson Square, where we saw Tomo Chi Chi's grave; and Marshall House, which was built in 1851 and turned into a hospital toward the end of the Civil War where amputated limbs were stored in the basement and later unearthed in the 1990s as renovations for a new luxury hotel occurred. After I found out the history of Marshall House I was relieved that we hadn't decided to stay there! The world is scary enough, I don't need to stay in a haunted hotel.

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Instead, my boyfriend and I booked the Hamilton-Turner Inn (or HTI as I affectionately started calling it), with our own private entry taking us to Lafayette Square. The room was fairly small, but it was the gorgeous decor of this converted historic home and the perks that really won both of us over. We arrived just in time for the 5-6 pm wine and cheese welcome for guests, which is where I learned that Georgia is famous for its nuts. This revelation led me to purchase a pack of roasted pecans at "Nuts about Savannah", a very sweet little boutique nuts store with a lovely owner. The hotel also provided us with fresh cookies and port from 8-10 pm. We complemented these treats with the most delicious ice cream I've ever had at Leopold's downtown. I can't speak highly enough about the breakfast at HTI either! We woke up to a full breakfast with a fresh fruit loaf, lemon curd, fresh fruit and juice, red velvet pancakes and all the fixings of bacon and scrambled eggs. After our meal, the realization that we'd have to leave hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to stay at HTI for a week (or a year, or forever), but that wasn't in the cards. The staff were kind enough to provide us with recommendations for more sites to see, and also store our luggage there while we did our final tour of the town. We couldn't leave town before having lunch at Mrs. Wilke's Dining Room - one of the most famous southern restaurants. Our visit was complete with family dining (with a family we didn't know), and endless grits, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and meats. It was well worth the hour-long wait.

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Savannah is living history. From Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Guides, to Savannah's spunky response to prohibition, I learned how fascinating this city is. In fact, it turns out that Savannah didn't want to go dry while the rest of the state of Georgia did, to the point where they considered seceding. Ultimately, when the Volstead Act passed it prohibited alcohol across the whole country so Savannah had no choice but to acquiesce. I felt like the city of Savannah fighting a losing battle when I realized it was our time to leave. Savannah is stunning, and the people were truly friendly - from the antiques dealers to the dog walkers at Forsyth Park. That being said, the cities felt tainted with the understanding that the whole region dealt in the slave trade. In fact, when we got to Charleston we found out that roughly 40 to 60% of Africans brought to America as slaves passed through the port of Charleston. Reading the history and learning the facts about slavery in the region left me wondering why we didn't see more African American voices represented in the tours we did through Savannah. The lack of representation felt intentional, and wrong.

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Driving through Tybee Island and then later Hilton Head Island in South Carolina felt a lot less historical and a lot more commercial - especially Hilton Head. In fact, even the restaurant we ate dinner at (Coast) was located in a private gated community with an entry fee. I would recommend it if you like shellfish though! After staying at an Airbnb in Bluffton with a nautical theme, we were excited to head to the beach at Hilton Head. Unfortunately, it was far too cold to actually swim; however, we enjoyed our long walk on the beach. Aside from the dead jelly fish, it also felt safer than the beach stroll on Tybee Island where we were confronted with a sign warning us about venomous snakes. We chose not to stay long at the beaches because of the weather and instead focused on the historical elements of the south.

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Our next stop after the South Carolina islands was Magnolia Plantation just outside of Charleston. We arrived slightly too late to wander the whole site because a number of the tours stop at 4 pm. That being said, we were able to do the 4:30 pm house tour where we learned about the Drayton family who founded the plantation in 1676. The family used slave labour, which was apparently a point of contention for some family members who ended up moving up north to join the abolitionist movement. We were able to see the slave cabins as we left the property, but we weren't allowed to wander through that area like the rest of the plantation. Similar to my feeling in Savannah, I wondered why there wasn't more of a discussion about the history of the slaves on the tour of the house. I understand that the focus was on the family, but it felt like it would be an important part of history to discuss - even outside of the tour that's devoted exclusively to the history of the slaves and their cabins, every tour (in my opinion) should discuss the slaves who were forced to toil those lands. In fact, anyone visiting a plantation should be educated about America's dark social past, not just the beauty of the current land. It's particularly crucial given that the past informs the current inequities within America.

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The Magnolia Plantation gave us a taste of South Carolina's swampy scenery and its worrying wildlife. In fact, while strolling the grounds we saw a number of alligators! As we were walking through the azalea garden and later the maze, I kept worrying that at any moment a snake was going to dart out in front of me or that an alligator was going to nip at my heels. Part of my paranoia probably stemmed from a close-call I had with a rattlesnake near Georgian Bay in southern Ontario - he was rattling my way, and I made sure to retreat the other way. After visiting the plantation, we checked in at a motel nearby called the Creekside Inn. It had been a last-minute decision, which my boyfriend had made on the beach at Hilton Head. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it was across the highway from a restaurant called Southern Roots. This restaurant had the most amazing BBQ we had on our entire trip. From the brisket to the macaroni and cheese I savoured absolutely every bite. The mood at the restaurant/bar was excellent too because it was an open mic night with some genuine talent. I would happily have performed my own rendition of Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy but sadly no one wanted to hear my pitchy performance.

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Charleston was really crucial to my understanding of the south. We visited the Old Slave Mart Museum and the Old Exchange Museum where we learned about the millions of people who were trafficked to America from Africa, and how the slave trade worked locally - including the government's participation, as they used slaves for projects and profited on slave taxes. The Old Slave Mart Museum didn't allow photography, likely because of the sensitive subject matter. The museum appeared self-reflective in that it openly acknowledged how its original owner had downplayed Charleston's role in the slave trade (and she had also spoken about the benefits of slavery), whereas now it focused instead on the resilience of the slaves and their cultures. The Old Exchange Mart also spoke about the history of slavery given that some of the auctions also occurred there. The more you learn, the more disturbing it is. That being said, it's incumbent upon any traveller to learn about racism, discrimination, and these atrocities if they want to act in more reflective and anti-racist ways.

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Traveling through the south gave me a greater understanding of the U.S. overall. Both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War have been crucial to the identity formed down south given how many of the battles were waged down there. One of the locals told me that some people may have an ongoing aversion to perceived northern rule because they've felt like their local context is secondary to federalism generated based on northern culture. Of course, there are still many different identities down south, including the people who are descendants of the African slaves, white residents of varying origins, Native Americans, and many other peoples. On our drives, we passed signs to "African Villages" and also celebrations of Gullah culture. Speaking of signs, one of the strangest ones we saw was on the lawn of a private home: "Socialism is one step from communism idiots". The message would have seemed more legitimate with some additional punctuation. The beauty of our road trip was that it allowed us insight into how locals live (and write), especially in the smaller towns. We passed through one town called The Rock, which had at least 7 churches for very few homes. As one of the locals said, "you can't swing a dead cat down here without hitting a church". It may be a stereotype about the south, but it's true - southerners are devout folks.

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Our drive was a study in contrasts: seeing striking poverty, but also mansions behind gated communities; red soil and swamps; people in camo and people in the finest silks. This juxtaposition was really evident when we stayed at the Edenfield House in Swainsboro, Georgia. We had found it while browsing for accommodation on our drive out of Charleston. The reviews were phenomenal and the historic home looked hauntingly beautiful. The house itself was built in 1895, but expanded since to accommodate more guests. I felt like a queen in our room because we needed a stool to get onto the bed, which had 4 posts and drapes. We were warned though not to turn right upon leaving the property because some people "may be looking for drama". Of course, I spent time Googling afterwards and learned that there have been a number of shootings down the street in recent months - this was surprising for a town of 7 000 people.

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After a delicious breakfast (where we finally tried grits!), we headed to Macon, Georgia. We had heard about this town from a couple we met while at the Magnolia Plantation. They had moved there from the northern US and spoke highly about the city. Unfortunately, we didn't feel as excited about it after detouring there. The one thing I really appreciated was our visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum of African American History where we learned more about African American women who took leadership roles in education, and also progress of African Americans in various industries like science and the arts. There was, of course, information about Harriet Tubman herself too. She's a legend for a reason. It was incredible reading about her courage and resilience in the face of oppression and violence. We finished off our visit by looking through a photo exhibit about African American war veterans. I'm left wondering where these stories were in our high school history textbooks...

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Before leaving Macon, we stopped for a stroll at the Amerson River Park and a meal at a Mexican restaurant (located in a parking lot). Surprisingly, some of the best food we had was from restaurants beside highways: from Southern Roots outside of Charleston to Guitarra's restaurant in Macon. The waiter was kind enough to give us a free dessert because we were so vocal about how much we loved the food. This was the last delicious meal we had on our trip in fact. We stayed at Ms. Annie's historic bed and breakfast in Thomaston that night but didn't end up buying dinner, and then the next day our only meal was a late lunch at JR's Log House Restaurant in Atlanta - an incredible disappointment! Suffice it to say that they were resting on their laurels as an older restaurant rather than admitting that salsa is not BBQ sauce, and canned beans should not be passed as fresh vegetables. In any case, we didn't starve as our last day was spent at an Atlanta Braves baseball game (v. Miami Marlins) where I had plenty of snacks.

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Aside from the food and the friendly faces, our trip down south was incredibly important for my understanding of American identity. Coming from a northern city, it can be hard to picture life in a small town down south and all of the issues that they may face. Similarly, now that I've learned more about African American history in the US, especially the south, I have a better understanding of how deep-rooted the current systemic oppression is. The transition away from slavery, that came with the end of the Civil War, was not seamless. And the ongoing inequities make the messages of people like Harriet Tubman incredibly relevant. In fact, given our current climate it's important for us to all be aware of what we can do to leave a better world than the one we joined. In that way, I'll end with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".

Posted by madrugada 17:34 Archived in USA Tagged baseball history bbq savannah georgia snakes american_history south_carolina atlanta historic_homes alligators plantations charleston hilton_head tybee_island civil_rights hamilton_turner_inn Comments (0)

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