Route: Washington DC—Asheville, NC—New Orleans, LA—San Antonio, TX—Carlsbad, NM—Tucson, AZ
This past summer I relocated—with the help of my father—from Baltimore/Washington DC area to Tucson, Arizona. Since we had to get all of my stuff, (which in retrospect I probably have too much of…) including my car and multiple musical instruments, from the East Coast all the way to the Southwest we decided to take about two weeks and make a road trip of it.
We started out in Washington DC…actually McLean, Virginia but no one knows where that is so it sounds better to say DC…and began driving south making our first stop in Asheville, North Carolina. Now up until this point the extent of my experience with NC had been the beaches at the Outer Banks, which are amazing and fun, but after this trip I think the mountains take it…at least in my opinion…feel free to disagree :).
The major tourist attraction in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, so being tourists that’s what we went to see.
The Biltmore mansion was built by the Vanderbilt family between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned home in the United States; all I can say about it is that anyone visiting will get a serious case of house-envy.
To visit the mansion you do have to pay an admission fee, however it includes access to the house and grounds as well as a complimentary wine-tasting at their winery—which we of course took full advantage of!
While most of our time was spent at the Biltmore, we did wander around the city of Asheville for a bit and browsing in the Grove Arcade where we stumbled upon the Woodrow Instrument Company; A Woodrow is basically a cross between a banjo and an Appalachian dulcimer.
Now for those of you who don’t know, one of the dangers of traveling with a musician is that we tend to want to collect every unusual instrument we come across…so to make a long story short, I now have my very own Woodrow!
After leaving Asheville we headed down to New Orleans. Upon driving into NOLA we got caught in a torrential thunderstorm that actually ended up flooding the French Quarter, which conveniently for us was where our hotel was…We did eventually make it, after driving through more water than I thought my car was capable of, and headed to the Gumbo Shop upon recommendation of my brother (who was totally right, by the way, if you ever find yourself in New Orleans go here!).
I must warn you a lot of what I’m going to say about New Orleans will have to do with food/drink, but that’s because it’s amazing…end of story.
We ended up having two full days in New Orleans; day one we spent doing a swamp tour where we made a raccoon friend—although he was probably more interested in the marshmallows that were on the boat.
The tour took us through the Honey Island Swamp, which is one of the largest undeveloped sections of swampland and is also inspiration for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
That evening we went on a cocktail tour, which I would highly recommend seeing as cocktails are as synonymous with New Orleans as Jazz. The tour was run through Dr Gumbos tours and included four drinks along with visits to four different bars while you learn about the history of classic NOLA cocktails like the Sazerac and the Grasshopper (aka Raj’s drink in The Big Bang Theory).
To answer the question on everyone’s minds, yes we did get beignets, both from Café du Monde and Café Beignet however they did not survive long enough to take pictures but they definitely lived up to the hype. Day two was spent wandering around Louis Armstrong Park and the Treme district, which my dad wanted to go to after watching the HBO series Treme. We also did a somewhat impromptu tour of the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, resting place of the infamous Marie Laveau—the voodoo priestess (I'm a bit of an American Horror Story junkie so this was super cool to me). Our final dinner in New Orleans was at Arnaud’s; founded in 1918, it is the second oldest restaurant in the city and the home of the French 75.
After New Orleans we made our way to San Antonio, and got caught in another torrential downpour…who knew it rained so much in Texas?? Anyway…San Antonio…we did the standard visit to the Alamo,
which was actually pretty cool because I’d never been before, and stopped at a couple other missions along the Mission Trail including Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Jose. The Mission Trail starts at the Alamo a stretches nine miles with stops a four other missions in the area, we only did two others mostly because it was like a million degrees outside but also the missions are all in varying states of use and repair so we picked the two that have been best preserved. Also the Mission San Juan was supposed to be one of my mother’s favorites, so sentimental reasons as well.
We made quick stops inside the Menger Hotel, the historic hotel in downtown San Antonio, and El Mercado for some souvenir shopping. That evening we went down to the Riverwalk and had dinner at the Iron Cactus, where my dad had a glass of Clase Azul tequila…unfortunately I don’t really drink tequila so this meant nothing to me…although he seemed to enjoy it and it came in a really cool bottle!
From San Antonio we basically bee-lined for Arizona, stopping overnight in Carlsbad, New Mexico to take a spin through the Carlsbad Caverns and a brief stop to see the Guadalupe Mountains, which were beautiful and definitely worth more time than we were able to give them.
Once we reached Tucson it was primarily getting down to the business of moving in and taking entrance exams for school :( , but we were able to take a drive up Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalina Mountains around Tucson. That brings us to the end of our East-West road trip; stay tuned for more travel adventures!