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Trip Report Going down South to North Carolina

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Thank you for all the good folks and the great advice I got here. Many suggestions were implemented and made our trip much more enjoyable.

Milling Around with Madison
Monday, August 9, 2010

Even though we wanted to leave early, we were about an hour late, but that's OK. We drove for a while and only stopped at several visitor centers for bathroom breaks as well as get some maps (at the beautiful Virginia visitor center).

We decided to try and make it Montpelier, James Madison’s home (he was the fourth president of the United States http://www.montpelier.org/visit/index.php) and our trip took us away from the highways and into the beautiful and scenic Blue Ridge highway in Virginia.

OK, a highway might be pushing it, it’s a two lane road (and not two lanes in each direction), but it is a beautiful ride.

We finally got to Montpelier, as members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (http://www.preservationnation.org/) we got a 50% discount on the entry as well as an extra percentage off at the gift shop . After parking we went to the visitor’s center, the movie did not work so we went up to the house.

The house itself was owned for a long time by the DuPont family and has been restored to the way it was when Madison lived there. The construction cost several millions dollars and now they are looking for Madison’s furniture, or furniture from the era.

We toured the house, that was very interesting since we got to walk on the original floors (some complete with ink stains) as well as see how the construction was being done. After we finished we toured the grounds, the beautiful garden, enjoyed the breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, ate some late lunch and drove to the hotel (which took us an extra 30 minutes courtesy of the GPS).

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    That's a beautiful area of the state. I've been on the grounds for herding dog events but never in the house itself. Thanks for the report. I'm looking forward to more.

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    First post was suppose to be July 29, oops.

    Jonseing for Jefferson
    Friday, July 30, 2010

    Waking up and getting a complimentary breakfast is always a plus in our book - which is exactly what we did. Afterward we got in the car and drove to the home of our fifth president James Monroe. Monroe was not as rich as his predecessors, actually he died in poverty, mostly because he spent tons of money while on missions from the third and fourth presidents and never getting reimbursed from Congress - shame on us!

    Monroe's home is called Ash Lawn- Highland (http://www.ashlawnhighland.org/), and while not as grand as Monticello or Mount Vernon is still very nice. There is a nice garden, the interior is furnished with furniture which might have been in the house, furniture which historians know belonged to Monroe as well as several personal items (such as his shaving tray). The tour is informative and takes place inside as well as outside and the surrounding area, the guides are informative and entertaining.

    We kept Monticello (http://www.monticello.org/) to be our last historical visit in Virginia because we knew it would be the most grand and everything afterward might be a disappointment in comparison. The parking lot was almost full at eleven O’clock in the morning. Our tour tickets are for 13:40, yet it’s easy to spend a whole day at Monticello. We first started at the Monticello Classroom, which is actually sort of a discovery center, playing games with the kids and learning about the way life
    was lived back when Jefferson was still alive. This area also includes copies of Jefferson’s inventions such as the polygraph, a letter copying machine using two pens which. After an hour and a half or so (which included lunch in the cafe) we took the bus up the mountain and viewed Monticello in all its glory.

    At home we got our daughter (5.5) a book called "Thomas Jefferson’s Feast", a Step Into Reading book (#4) in which every book talks about a trait the person had, this one talks about Jefferson’s love of food, his discovery of new foods in France and cultivating them in Monticello (all without mentioning slavery once). In the book it mentioned his invention of a dumbwaiter and states that if you go to his house in Virginia, the dumbwaiter still works.

    Our daughter was excited to see if the claim in the book is true…well, guess what, it is. Only the dumbwaiter, hidden on the side of the fireplace in the dining room doesn’t bring up food but bottles of wine. Nevertheless, she was excited and happy – what more, there is a dumbwaiter recreation below the house where the kids could actually use it and see how it works (pullies, weights, etc.).
    Excellent!

    After the tour we walked in the vegetable garden, the flower garden and were ready to go back to the hotel. We ate dinner in a Mexican place called Guadalajara, in which our daughter learned a valuable lesson: when you want another beer you catch the eye of the server, raise your bottle and you get another.

    Only that she missed that whole part about catching the eye of the server...and the part about her father saying "no" to another cup of soda (a treat in our house)...and the part about getting in trouble when half a second after her patriarch’s negative answer she turns behind her mother’s back and raises her cup...of course no one saw her.

    Luckily her father has a sense of humor and couldn’t stop laughing.

    Off to the hotel, the pool and an early night’s sleep.

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    Saturday, July 31, 2010


    Today was a travel day – nothing planned. We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast and started our long journey to Carolina Beach, NC. We were all antsy to “get there” but decided not to stop for lunch until we reach North Carolina – however at the visitor’s center the lady told us that there are no restaurants for … 30-40 miles?

    She meant real restaurants, not fast food – but we are with a 5.5 and a 3 year old, surly she must have been confused. It’s one thing for adults to stretch it out but kids don’t have that kind of discipline, especially sitting in the car all day.

    Nevertheless, after a few miles we saw a sign for Bojangles - Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits (similar to KFC)…since three out of the four members of the family have never been there…and it was close… and we were hungry…and were not about to bring two cranky kids and even crankier adults to a fine dining place…we stopped.

    As we grew closer to North Carolina the spirits and anxiety rose as well as the annoyance with the entertainment provided by our 5.5 year old daughter. After almost seven hour of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” even our three year old son had had enough…and our ears were burning with squeaky melodies of famous and annoying pop-tunes.
    Whether these tunes were annoying before or after the trip is irrelevant.

    We did the only thing your humble servants feverish brain could think of – stop at the nearest Best Buy where, a few days ago in New Jersey I saw a sale of Batman movies including our family’s new favorite “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”.

    For those of you not familiar with this wonderful show, which saved our sanity, each kid friendly episode features Batman teaming up with another superhero to undo the dastardly deeds of the villain – all in half and hour or less. The show is lighthearted and playful depicting the Dark Knight with a dry and ironic sense of humor – yes… Daddy likes it also (but I’m a sucker for superheroes anyway).

    I guess this is the point to review the GPS given to us by a friend, we borrowed it had the newest maps on – but the software needs to be rewritten, not only couldn’t if find our hotel the day before, but it recalculated after every exit and to top off the shenanigans, while driving a stretch of 150 miles, after 90 miles it told me to turn around. Luckily I printed the directions from Google maps –so no worries.

    We finally reached Carolina Beach, NC and true to form our GPS tried to send up 10 miles out of the way. Clearly something was wrong and after about 20 minutes of driving back and fourth in an area about half a mile long we decided to do the only logical thing to do when lost – we stopped for ice cream.

    Needless to say at this point we were all ready to start walking back to New Jersey – but we call our charming hostess Dawn (from Tom and Dawn’s Beach House in Carolina Beach) – as it turned out were only a few blocks away. Dawn met us at the ice-cream store and we followed her to the beautiful beach house.

    This town-house faces the inlet, wonderful breeze on both balconies (one facing the inlet, the other the quite street) and has a big living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, three TVs (living room and both bedrooms) a great kitchen, a pool, a short walk (one and a half blocks) to the beach and two parking spots. Out daughter thought it was a castle – her own bathroom AND a TV in her room.

    We went shopping in Food Lion, back to the townhouse and went to sleep – our relaxation has started.

    I know what you’re thinking – a whole entry about nothing….

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    Carolina Beach..umm...beach
    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    After two grueling days of driving, visiting, getting lost and dashing from one presidential estate to the other, we decided to take it easy. Lazily we got up in the morning, spent our day enjoying the house, cooking breakfast, playing, watching some TV and in the afternoon we went to the beach.

    We are starting to relax.

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    Fishing for Fort Fisher
    Monday, August 2, 2010

    We wisely, or unwisely – that remains to be seen, decided that one day of rest is plenty and scoured the local attractions. Since we picked the hottest week of the year to go we reverted to what has became known as our “Virginia Strategy” from two years past. Basically go out touring in the morning and spend lunch / afternoon time resting and enjoying the pool / beach / hotel / house – whatever, you get the picture.

    But first things first – we must have a nutritional breakfast to start the day. We got out the oatmeal, vegetables, eggs and…put them right back in the fridge, got our keys and headed to … “Britts Donut Shop”. Since it has gotten the title of “Second Best Donut Shop in the Country” the shop has been a target of pilgrimage for many people who worship Donuts and the Donut god – one Homer Simpson

    Fort Fisher Jr. Reserve badge .
    Britts only serves one kind of donut, glazed; it is delicious and melts in your mouth. The service though lacked some luster. A bunch of teenagers who looked like they must have been indentured servants and we got the feeling they were doing us a tremendous service by handing over six donuts and two cups of coffee.
    May Homer bless those poor souls.

    We had no clue where to go; there are several attractions around the Carolina Beach area. However, one of them stood out – Fort Fisher. A civil war fort which protected the coast so the South could get supplies into Wilmington. We figured it would be fun, educational for the kids, they would learn about the war and a nice ride. That is how we justified it to ourselves, in reality we went because it’s free.

    If we didn’t feel like we were in the south until now, that feeling changed immediately upon passing “President Davis” Ave. Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America. Fort Fisher is small, very historic and nice. There is a small museum, a small gift shop (air conditioned, Homer bless them), and displays

    From what we understand there are events there, however when we went there was nothing. We walked around the trail, climbed up to the cannon positions, learned a few things and were back in the car after spending some more time in the museum. Our kids even got a Fort Fisher Jr. Reserve badge – for the Confederate Army one can only assume.

    By now it was lunchtime; we decided to chance a place on the way back and stopped at Big Daddy. A huge restaurant which, we understood was quite famous. The food was good, we’ve had better and we’ve had worst. Back to the house for some rest and relaxations before heading to the North Carolina boardwalk to take the kids on the carnival ride.

    Being from New Jersey, our “busy” means loads of people. From what we understood from the carnival workers – who were all very nice and professional – is that tonight is a bit busy, only that by NJ standards it was practically empty.
    Not that we’re complaining mind you, our kids went on every ride they wanted without a line.

    Another wonderful day where the kids went to sleep exhausted.

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    Such a great trip report! I went to Ft Fisher in 1972. There was a hermit who lived out there-he was the attraction! Sounds like it's changed. SO glad you are having a great time. And yes, NC is not NJ.

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