Florida – New Jersey Roadtrip
Boca Raton, FL –> Montclair, NJ : 1,236 miles, 18.5 hours of driving across 8 states.
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware & New Jersey.
This whole idea came about after I made an offhand joke about flying down to Florida to collect Sahar’s parents old car and driving it back up to NJ. Next thing I know, he’s booked flights and has asked me to look into some interesting things on the way up. Now If you know me well, you’ll be aware that I
like love planning trips. Whether It’s a weekend away or a mammoth 5 month travel itinerary- I’m there with a pen & paper eager to begin.
On my previous trips to The States I’ve spent time in Pennsylvania & Florida mostly with short trips to NYC, New Orleans and The Jersey Shore. I was super excited at the prospect of being able to explore a new part of the US, especially more of The South. I was expecting; southern gentlemen, fried chicken, soft accents, country music, big trucks and in your face religion. Now this may all sound awfully stereotyped and cliche but we saw it all and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
We had 2 wonderful days in Florida with Sahar’s family, who I haven’t seen for almost 2 years after we went travelling again. We spent those days eating delicious home cooked food, going to the beach, visiting a local bird park and playing on the virtual reality console. We packed the car up with the remainder of Sahar’s belongings- seriously this boy has more clothes than I do, raided the cupboards to furnish our apartment and finally emptied the fridge.
Our first evening stop would be Savannah, Georgia. We would be following the infamous i-95 for almost our whole journey home. It’s your typical; straight, tree lined, 2-6 lane highway with tall fast food signs jutting out of the foliage. But if you get off at the right places, you can find some real gems.
The drive through Florida was pretty uneventful and uninteresting, the highway is huge and fairly empty considering It’s the 8th most populated state. We had travelled this way before on a trip up to St. Augustine and through central Florida so we distracted ourselves by trying to spot number plates from every state. Surprisingly we did quite well with 40/50- but we were hanging out for Hawai’i, no luck.
Georgia got a little more interesting, the tree’s changed and the billboards took on a new subject. It wasn’t ’13 foot gator’ signs anymore but ‘peach wine, peach bread, peach cider’. We were greeted by a life size cardboard cut out of Daryl Dixon in the visitor centre, his character in the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’ being born in Georgia. Soon we were enveloped in huge, black clouds which chucked out an impressive amount of rain, such a quantity that many cars pulled off the highway with their hazards flashing through the blur.
We air bnb’d on the outskirts of Savannah as the accommodation prices were ridiculous, we weren’t sure if this was due to it being Mother’s Day weekend or if that was the standard. Sometimes it’s better to just power through it, so despite the early morning & the 7 hour drive we hopped back into the car and headed out for dinner. Sweet Potatoes- a cute establishment with every wall a different colour, big portions and a friendly, low key serving style. Maybe this is what you call ‘Southern Hospitality?’ Fried chicken, collard greens, biscuits, candied apples, black eyed peas, pecan crusted chicken & sweet potato with pecan butter followed by banana pudding was the meal of the evening.
We visited River Street during the evening & the day, it has a very similar feel to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a good vibe with lots of people there for different reasons. Drinking is allowed on the street, rowdy hen parties stumble past you giggling in a vision of pink and families stroll along pointing out the brightly lit paddle boat called the ‘Georgia Queen’. We sat and watched a trumpet player for a good half hour, once he’d chosen his ‘victim’ he would direct his instrument at them and play what he thought was appropriate…not really appropriate but hilarious nonetheless. The buildings along River Street are really fantastic, you have to cross the road to truly appreciate them. Most were involved in one way or another in the cotton empire that once existed in the city.
The morning after we visited Bonaventure Cemetery and Wormsloe Historic Site. The cemetery was really interesting, all the ages were mixed up so you had brand new headstones next to 1800 angels draped in spanish moss. The place was massive, so big in fact that all the roads and lane ways had names. We met a lovely southern gentlemen there who said (in a soft accent) that we really should return to The South in a few months when all the flowers were blooming.
Before starting our self guided walking tour, we had more pressing matters to address: breakfast. For anyone who know’s the two of us, food is very important and that’s where most of our money ends up disappearing to!
J. Christopher’s Brunch was packed but being only 2 we managed to place our order for shrimp & grits and sausage gravy with biscuits in minutes. And oh my, it was out-of-this-world. Butter, butter and more butter.
Sunday morning was the perfect day to explore Savannah by foot, especially as it was Mother’s Day. Well dressed families poured out of the numerous churches into the historic squares, little girls with bows in their hair & little boy’s with navy blue jackets. A hefty black man sat on a bench singing an improvised Mother’s Day song in his deep voice whilst weaving palm leaves into beautiful rose creations. Our walking tour took us past the main points of interest in town; along the tree lined avenues, past notable buildings like The Cotton Exchange & down to Forsyth Park.
We continued through South Carolina which offered faded billboards about fireworks, country radio stations and a dead Armadillo toasting in the sun. It seemed a shame to drive through and not learn anything so here’s some fun facts. It’s the only state that grows tea in the US, it does not have any professional sports teams & is home to the legendary ‘Hell Hole Swamp’- a festival complete with a tobacco-spitting contest and a 10km ‘redneck run’.
The tree’s gave way to farmland along the highway through North Carolina & the edges were softened with gently swaying yellow and pink wildflowers dotted with bursts of red poppies. North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain is the only private park in the world designated by the U.N as an International Biosphere Reserve, is the home of Pepsi & is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country.
Our second overnight stop would be in Richmond, Virginia. The city loomed on the horizon like a children’s set of building blocks haphazardly put together and bleached of all colour. We’d been hoping to test out some of the many craft breweries but being a Sunday they all closed about 8pm, so we settled for another filling Southern meal instead. Mac n cheese, collard greens, cornbread, baby back ribs, beef brisket burger & fried pickles..I’m not remotely ashamed to say we finished it all either.
The morning after on our last day we checked out the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. A 50 acre plot that was originally the hunting ground of Powhatan Indians but is now covered with woodland walks, tropical glasshouse’s, rose garden’s and a butterfly sanctuary- it was the perfect way to relax before our drive home.
Maryland was our lunch stop but also stung us for 2 toll booths. It is home to the first Cathedral in the US, has 47 state parks and is considered the birthplace of religious freedom in America.
Next was Delaware, we were there for about 10 minutes but still had to go through a toll booth, I guess they take advantage of everyone sailing on through the top of their state towards the metropolitan North-East. The lady bug is Delaware’s official state bug, it’s top tourist attraction according to Tripadvisor is the Air mobility command museum and in 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States.
All in all, our roadtrip was epic but I find it very difficult to drive through places without getting out the car to explore! We came home with a mountain of reading material to help us plan future trips when we are able to return to The South. Thanks for reading y’all!