Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To Durham and Beyond: Part Four-Homeward Bound

Our trip from Greenville to Iowa was via Indianapolis for the night, and Greenville to Indy was going to be the longest leg of the journey. Because Iain was "car-ed out" by this time, and was getting cranky after the 10 minutes it took each time we drove to our hotel from downtown, we weren't sure what to do. We wanted to be to our hotel in Indy by check-in, but also knew that the trip would take way longer than the 8 1/2 projected hours, what with much needed stops. We also agreed that the more time we could drive while Iain slept, the better, but we were just too tired to think about a 5am wake up call.

In the end, after our busy, busy day in Greenville, we decided not to set the alarm and just "see what happened". We were sure that Iain was super tired, and that he'd sleep solidly, and then we'd get up and go. Well...as Becky's dad says..."You can count on that!" At home, Iain is a pretty consistent sleeper, waking up somewhere around 6am for his bottle of "milk breakfast" and then promptly going back to sleep until 9am or so, but on this trip, sleeping in strange places, getting teeth, and bunking up in the same room with Mom and Dad, he'd been all over the place. Some mornings he'd wake up at 5am and take over an hour to go back to sleep. Other days, he'd sleep straight through until 7:30 or so, and then decide it was time to be up for good. Well, of course, this night he woke up screaming at 3am! We weighed our options: do we let him cry (thus disturbing us and everyone around us) in hopes he'll go back to sleep for a few hours? do we feed him, go back to bed and sleep in, thus dashing all hopes of getting an early start? or do we get up and go? In the end, that's what we did.

We fed Iain, and packed him into the car in the dark, and were on the road by 3:30. It turned out to be a good decision, because he DID sleep for much of the trip, which made for a more pleasant (and faster) car ride! But we were sad that our entire drive through South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee was in the dark, so we missed all of the mountainous beauty we'd caught a glimpse of the day before. I will say that we climbed for what seemed like hours, and even the stars were obscured by the peaks around us, so they must be impressive! Once again, we'd love to go back!

As we started our downward journey into Kentucky, the sun stole over the horizon, and we spotted a familiar southern icon.
I had never been to a Waffle House, though Neil had, and we decided that our trip to the south wouldn't be complete without patronizing the restaurant you see on EVERY corner. Besides...we were stinkin' hungry! If you've never been to a Waffle House (and perhaps I'm the only person in the world who hasn't!) don't let the name fool you. It could just as easily be called "Egg House" or "Breakfast House" or "Sandwich House", and it wasn't the massive selection of waffles I was expecting. But it was pretty good (for a Waffle House) and they had coffee, and it was a nice little break. Did you know you can still smoke in restaurants in Kentucky? Strange, right?

We made it to Indianapolis by about 2pm, and made a quick stop for lunch at Yats. Apparently this restaurant is a Indy landmark, and it was one of our favorites on the trip. They have four locations, the owner is from New Orleans and they serve Cajun and Creole food. They have about five things on the menu each day, and you can order a full size, a half size, or "half and half" (two things) and it comes with two slices of garlic bread and and it's a fixed price. Neil got a half order of red beans and smoked sausage with rice, and I got a half order of chicken with mushroom and spinach on rice, and our total came to $8. It was fantastic food, and plenty of it, and the restaurant decor (in Neil's words) "looked like a record store"! Very cool experience. If you're ever in Indy...go to Yats!

From there, it was off to our final (free) hotel, and we were pretty excited about this one, as it was brand new, and a two-room suite, which meant our little bunk-mate could have his own room! Our hotel also had a kitchen area, which we were excited about. After seeing just how nice the kitchen was, (and in particular the sweet stainless steel cookware they had to offer!) we decided that some Pitman chefery was in order! After a quick dip in the pool, we hit up Trader Joe's, which was just down the road, and got all the ingredients for a gourmet dinner, made by us! Here's what was on the menu: Parmesan crusted chicken, linguine Alfredo with mixed vegetables, Caesar salad, wine for Neil and sparkling cider for Beth, and mint chip ice cream for dessert. Our dinner was mostly made by Neil, and it was fantastic! (The picture doesn't do it justice!) Along with the ever-present hotel Food Network marathon, it was a perfect night!

Sunday morning, we slept in a little, dallied over breakfast, went for another swim, and then packed up the car for the final time. We were pretty sad to have an entire day of "States beginning with I", but we made it home okay, after not too many tears on Iain's part. As you can see below, he busied himself by playing with his hair (his sleepy-gesture), feeding Mr. Lion some snacks, and a nice long break for lunch at a park on the way.

Although the trip held many moments in the car when I wanted to tear my hair out and swore that I'd never take a baby on another road trip, I can give him the benefit of the doubt now. Looking back, I'm sure the 3000 miles we traveled seemed like a lot for a little boy, and (we counted on the way home) the 15 states Iain has visited in his 15 months of life might be considered a bit much. But somehow it all seems worth it in retrospect, and the hours of frustration in the car fade, while the good memories of the trip remain. We're glad to be a well traveled family, and we hope Iain will look at these pictures and know that we had fun together, even though he doesn't remember it. (And since we don't have any pictures to document him screaming in the car, maybe it's good that he doesn't remember it!) And (unless we've scarred him for life, and he never wants to take another road trip!) we're all looking forward to our next vacation together! Got a state for us to visit?

To Durham and Beyond: Part Three-The Detour

When we were planning our trip, we realized that since we became a family of three, we'd never taken a "real" family vacation (as in a vacation that didn't involve visiting family or friend...which are our favorite kind of vacations to take!) or traveling for volleyball or some work related event. Since we were going to be traveling anyway, we figured we'd better take one, before we became a family of four, and missed our chance! So after our time at Stu and Becky's we headed slightly southwest to Greenville, South Carolina. We picked it for our FIRST family vacation for several reasons. It wasn't too far away (under four hours from Durham) it was the home of another one of our "pointbreak" (i.e. FREE!) hotels, and from our research, looked to be a city with an amazing (and pedestrian friendly) downtown, some super cool restaurants, stores and attractions, and awesome natural beauty; it's in the Smoky Mountain foothills and has a fantastic waterfall and rapids area running through downtown! -First stop in town was at "Southern Fried Green Tomatoes" for lunch. It wins the title for "coolest little restaurant you ever will find in a strip mall on the outskirts of town", and was a "meat and three" place: you order your meat and get two sides, plus cornbread and biscuits (and of course, the ever present sweet tea!). This place was FULL of southern hospitality (we even got a free t-shirt because they liked Iain, and thought it was "cool" that we were from Iowa!) and was comfort food at it's best. Neil had the meatloaf, with creamed corn and mashed potatoes (was someone longing for home cookin'?) and I tried the fried chicken with (of course!) fried green tomatoes, and a twice baked potato casserole. It was all DELICIOUS, although neither of us came close to finishing our meal! (I will say as well, that I think Iain ate as much fried chicken as I did! This boy likes his fried foods apparently!!) Surprisingly, after not showering, being in the car all morning, and arriving in SC to 110 degree heat with 100% humidity, we took some of our best (as in everybody is looking at the camera, and no one is making a (terribly) weird face!) family photos!

After our lunch, we went to our blissfully cool hotel room for a long (and much needed!) nap. After a swim in the pool, we showered and headed to Handi Indian Cuisine in downtown Greenville. We looove Indian food, so this was a must-destination! It got great reviews, and looked really nice from the website, but we were unprepared for HOW nice it was! We actually had to ask if they had high chairs (as in..."is this a place you can bring a baby?!") and thankfully the answer was yes! The pictures don't do it justice, but it was without a doubt the nicest Indian restaurant we've ever been to! And our meal was perfect! We enjoyed the best samosas we've ever had, flawless chicken makhani and vindaloo, and Iain particularly loved the black pepper papadums! (No surprise, since they are basically crackers, but we thought it a mark of his good taste!)

We woke up bright and early Friday morning (thanks to our little alarm clock!) and after breakfast, (and coffee!) drove about an hour north to Caesar's Head State Park. After a stop at a South-est of the South gas station and a very winding ascent, we arrived at the viewing area...it was amazing! We'd both seen the Rocky Mountains often, but these were more gentle, more rolling, and more...smoky! Beautiful!

We headed back to the hotel for a nap time for Iain and showers for everyone, and then it was off to the CUTEST restaurant we'd ever seen, the Brick Street Cafe. We met up with some dear friends for lunch: my old roomie Aimee and her husband David, and their adorable kiddos, Averie and Finn. The restaurant's food tasted as good as the place looked, and my "Crab Cake Sammich" was to die for! Even though we decided to forgo the peanut butter cake that all the staff was talking up in expectation of gelato later downtown, I think we might need a trip back there just to try it! I hadn't seen Aimee in over three years, and neither of us had met the others' children, so it was a much needed (and long overdue!) reunion! Iain was hamming it up for his audience, of course, showing off his (fake) yawn, demonstrating his knowledge of his tummy, hair, ears, etc. and generally clowning it up...until he conked his head on the table leg and got a HUGE bruise and goose egg! He was a sad and subdued little soldier after that! Averie was such a little beauty, and a good conversationalist to boot (we heard all about Wall-E!) and Finn a smoochable little peanut! It was so good to meet them!

After lunch, we headed to Reedy River Falls Park. Reedy River has an amazingly beautiful natural waterfall that cascades through the middle of Greenville's downtown, and there are shops, restaurants, boardwalks and sights to see all around. It's spanned by the Liberty Suspension Bridge, a landmark in itself. According to the visor's guide, the bridge is 355-feet long, 12-feet wide, has a horizontal curve radius of 214-feet and 90-foot towers weighing 26 tons each. Impressive sounding, and even better to see. UNFORTUNATELY, my camera battery died at this point, before I could get a good family shot, a picture of Aimee and me, or even one of the impressive bridge. To see some other photos of our reunion, check out Aimee's awesome blog! As an aside, we thought it quite humorous that signs were posted all around that rock sliding was PROHIBITED, but swimming was DISCOURAGED. How the heck would you swim in this place without rock sliding?!
We got our much coveted gelato after our trip to the park, and then Aimee and David and their two tired kidlets took off for home, about two hours away. After they left, Neil, Iain and I browsed in some of the cool shops downtown (in the pouring rain!) and contemplated what to do with our last vestiges of time in Greenville. There was one thing left on our "Fun things to do in Greenville" list, and since the weather was perfect (the thunderstorm had lowered the temperature about thirty degrees from the day before, and the rain had stopped and the sun was shining!) and since Iain was happily napping in his carseat, we decided we shouldn't pass it up. It was back to the hotel for a quick change into some dry clothes, and then back downtown to a Greenville Drive baseball game! Like everything of note in Greenville, Fluor Field is smack-dab in the middle of downtown, upscale without being pretentious, family friendly, and FUN! Apparently on a Friday night, it's also popular! When we arrived, we discovered that all the seats were sold out (although if you ask me, there were PLENTY empty!) but we could get standing room. We decided to go for it, since our hearts weren't set on staying the whole time, and there were lots of picnic tables, grassy areas, and even a kids playground that we could use. We had some great (and cheap!!) ballpark food for dinner, and Iain LOVED walking around the stadium, seeing all there was to see. He was also very interested (and very cautious!) in the many "characters" that frequent a baseball stadium! We stayed until our boy got tired, and then off to the hotel for our final night before heading home. Oh, Grandma and Grandpa, Iain wants you to know that he thinks the Mystique drives really well!
We were very sad to leave "The South" and very sad to leave Greenville, which goes on our list of top-ten cities! Although we exhausted our pre-made list of "Fun things to do in Greenville", we discovered many more, so we'll have to go back! Final installment: Homeward Bound, coming tomorrow! Check back for more adventures with the Pitman clan!

One last thing: can anyone tell me what the heck these vines are? They grow all over EVERYTHING in the south!!

To Durham and Beyond: Part Two-Durham...(and Beyond!)

We got to Stu and Becky's apartment at dinner time, and after hugs and exclamations all-round, we sat down to some delicious "top-your-own" pizza! (a Pitman favorite!) After dinner, we went for a quick swim and then settled in for commune living at its best. The guys gave the babies their baths, while we cleaned up the kitchen and packed our overnight bags for our weekend beach trip that would begin the next morning. (Catching up, sharing stories and enjoying our time together all the while!) Iain loved their HUGE bathtub, but was a little concerned about Courtney's zest for the bath, demonstrated by much splashing! After the kids were in bed, we had some dessert and watched some Arrested Development (another Pitman favorite) and lounged around a bit. This would set the pattern for most of our week in Durham! With the exception of our fun weekend at the beach, we mainly did three things: swim, eat, and sleep! It was delightful!

At 7am the next morning, we left for Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach! After a quick stop at McDonald's for some Egg McMuffins and iced coffees, we were beach bound!! We packed a cooler of lunch and snacks, many pails, shovels, floaties and water toys for the babies, sunscreen, body boards and swimsuits, and headed for the coast. Sadly, the one thing we all forgot was...the CAMERA! We bought a disposable on Saturday night, but who knows if we'll ever find a place that still develops 'em! So once again, those memories will have to live on...in our memories! We spent the day on the beach, alternately watching babies make sand castles, swimming, sunning, body-boarding, and shell-seeking. Drat. Sure wish we had pictures of all this fun!

After we were beached-out, (and sun-kissed to boot!) we headed to our hotel for the night (an oddly furnished two-room suite, with an eclectic mix of country touches, down south "charm", a beachy vibe, and something else indistinguishable!) and showered up for dinner. That is when we realized JUST how burned we were! We were determined to get some fresh seafood, so we headed to "Jones Fish Camp" to eat, after much deliberation, reviews and reccomendations! Between the four of us, we tried flounder, whitefish, shrimp, clams, crab and oysters. Not to mention hush-puppies, baked potatoes, fries and veggies! And the babies tried it all too. Odd, that Iain will eat hardly anything we offer him, but dip it in batter and fry it...and he'll eat him an oyster! After a quick stop at the store for some dessert items (read: LOTS of candy!) and some beach equipment for the next day, it was back to the hotel and bed for the babies, (after a bath in our (SURPRISE) whirlpool tub!) and the Food Network for us!

We all slept like the dead, and the next morning it was back to the beach after breakfast. Alas, our idyllic day in the sun was not to be repeated, and it started to thunder, lightening, and POUR rain about an hour in. We packed it up and hit the town to explore some shops. After a delicious lunch at a Baja Mexican place (Mexican is our go-to when Pitman vacations get rained out!) we headed back to Durham, sad for our rained-out beach day, but happy with the fun we'd had.

After the weekend, it was back to work for Stu, and our days took on a similar shape of napping when the babies napped, quick shopping trips or errands in the afternoons, MUCH time at the pool, and delicious home-cooked meals, or patronizing various local joints for dinner. The pictures of the week are few and far between, because we didn't do much "out of the ordinary", so we kept forgetting to take pictures, and in essence, forgetting that being together was now in itself out of the ordinary. I wish we'd taken more, and hope that the trusty disposable will turn up some treasures, but for now...here's what our week looked like in a nutshell.

SWIM: We arrived in Durham in a "break from the heat", so weather was a balmy 95 degrees, instead of the mid 100s they had been having, but it still felt pretty hot and humid to us! So...we spent a LOT of time in their lovely apartment pool!

EAT: One of our nightly restaurant forays: HOG HEAVEN!
We thought we couldn't make trip to the south without some southern BBQ, (and of course sweet tea!) so we inquired as to where to go. The reply? "If you want the BEST barbecue in Durham...you've gotta go to HOG HEAVEN"I can't vouch for BEST, since we only went to the one place...but it WAS darn good!

MORE EAT: (We ate a lot...!) On our last night, we went to "Broad Street Cafe", a somewhat dive-y looking place with GOURMET food! Between us we sampled: the sweet potato fries with aioli, margherita pizza with tomato slices and fresh basil, Jamaican jerk pizza with jerk chicken, pineapple and red onion, and pizza vichyssoise, with sliced potatoes, fresh herbs, leeks, shallots and Gorgonzola cheese. It was all AH-MAZING!

SLEEP: We did a lot of THIS too...but this is the only photo we have!

Thursday morning, it was time to say our fond farewells, and pack up for the return journey. (Stay tuned!) We were going home via South Carolina, which was not really on the way, (being SOUTH, and Iowa being NORTH!) but it was home to a great (free!) hotel, and a cool little city that we were itchin' to explore. It's good that we still had fun to look forward to, or saying good-bye would have been even harder. The three weeks since we had seen them felt like a lifetime, so I don't know how we'll make it until Christmas, or longer! Dear family, thank you for having us, for giving up your bed, for cooking us delicious dinners, for showing us the sights of your new town, and for being fun to hang out with! We love you, and can't wait to visit again!

To Durham and Beyond: Part One-The Southbound Journey

Two weeks ago, marked a Pitman family first! We took a trip that did not involve going north, to Canada, and instead headed south to Durham to visit our dear brother, sister and neice who moved there in July. We decided that for Iain's sake, (and our own sanity!) we'd better break up the trip, and not just try to get there as fast as we could, (which would be Neil's and my inclination!) so we found some great hotel deals (as in FREE!) and some "don't miss" landmarks and restaurants on the way there and back, and made a real road-trip out of it! It was a week-long adventure, to "The South" and back (which we have discovered is worthy of its quotation marks and capitals, as it is basically a country unto itself!).

The adventures started on Thursday morning, July 29th, when we hopped in the car and took off for Louisville, Kentucky, our first destination. Neil did EVERY LAST BIT of driving on entire this trip, and Mommy's job was to entertain the very active boy, for the over 3000 miles we traveled, all-told. I wouldn't say that any of the car rides were idyllic, but with over two weeks of time allowing them to fade in my mind, they don't seem quite as bad! But I will say this: traveling with kids is NOT FAST. With lots of pit-stops on the way, for food, gas, bathrooms and play time, it took us about 10 hours...and this was our "short day!" But honestly, as I recall, Iain amused himself fairly well in the car, with books, toys, games with Mommy, and of course....the constant refrain of "Bears, Bears" and "Tractor, Tractor" on the iPod. (Kudos to you both, Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame, for inventing a kids' CD that we are still not sick of, one year later!) We even saw a "Neil Street"!

We finally crossed the border of Kentucky at about 7pm, (very grateful to be finished with states starting with the letter I after the never-ending stretches of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana!) and headed to our Destination! (Yes...that is Destination with a capital D!)

We had done some research and found a cool restaurant called Lynn's Paradise Cafe. It looked cool, kitschy, cute, and delicious, AND as an added bonus, Bobby Flay had done a throwdown there! As avid Food Network fans, this was the clincher! Let me say folks, this place did not disappoint! There were tons of strange decorations outside, the sign was made of shiny silver strips of metal, they had hanging pants made of tea bags, and fun and funky gift shop, the waiters were dressed up for "Thursday Super Hero Night!" They even had little buckets of farm animals and crayons on the tables to amuse babies. Although the lunch and dinner entrees looked great, we are a sucker for breakfast-for dinner, AND the throwdown was with breakfast food, so we decided we had to try it. Neil got a Mexican omlette with hashbrowns, I got french toast and bacon, we both got a milkshake, and we all left happy! (Even Iain...temporarily...!)

From there, it was off to our hotel! We headed down the the lovely and spacious pool, and after a good laugh at the sign that read "Occupancy: 5 Violators subject to $100 fine", decided we'd risk it even if three others came to join us. FIVE??? Typo? We're still not sure...! Iain had a lot of fun getting all his wiggles out in the pool, after being cooped up in the car for so long, and we took him back to our room, all tired out (so we thought) and ready for a bath and a good night's sleep for everyone, before another long day of driving. Well. It did NOT go as planned! We still don't know what the problem was, whether he was all rejuvenated from his swim, or he didn't like the hotel crib we'd gotten, or his mouth was sore (we later found four teeth a-poppin' through!) or WHAT was going on...but he didn't settle down and go to sleep until almost midnight. And this is the boy who has gone happily to sleep every night of his life since he was three weeks old. And he is ALSO the boy who has slept away from home almost as much as he has at home! And it wasn't just chattering or whimpering...this boy was full-out sobbing and screaming, and waking the neighbors (we're sure) and inconsolable. Needless to say, it was not our best night. We were toying with the conflicting ideas of: driving him around in the car to give the neighbors some solace, just getting up and leaving for Stu and Becky's then and there, turning around and going home, or putting him in the bathroom to "cry it out". Eventually, I carried him down the hall just to get him out of the room, and he conked out. After he finally fell asleep, we settled in for the (now much shorter) night in our comfy bed, and caught a few hours of blessed sleep.

After a MUCH needed Starbucks trip (for everyone!) we hit the road again at 7am, very excited that every mile took us closer to our dear family!
We thought this factory looked very Willy Wonka-esque!

We loved driving through West Virginia, all the beautiful mountains and trees, and were very thankful to Mom and Dad Pitman for the use of their car, as we became more and more certain with every mile that our little Hyundai would never have made it!

Thankfully, Iain did a lot of THIS in the car that day, so the trip went pretty fast!

We stopped in Charleston, West Virginia, for a much needed halfway-point lunch at Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream, which included Moroccan vegetable soup, wraps, and the BEST ice-cream ever! Getting closer....!

YAY! We're there!

We arrived at Stu and Becky's cute apartment at about 6pm, and were very glad to be there, very glad to be finished driving, very glad to see them again, and very glad to have six whole days together!! What we did there though...will have to wait for another post!