Last Saturday, Skyler and I hopped on a plane (preceded, of course, by a few rounds of mimosas and Jack Daniels at the airport bar), heading south to the sunny world of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to celebrate our marriage! Fast forward about 12 hours, and we were sitting on the porch of the room at our resort, watching a few men and women dance in the rain, wearing butterfly wings and dripping in glitter. Skyler looked at me. “Wanna catch the first flight out of here tomorrow morning? Turn this into an adventure?” Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. So, that’s exactly what we did.
Let me back up a little bit. Our honeymoon had always been planned as a week of relaxation, sitting on the beach in Punta Cana, sipping margaritas and doing absolutely nothing. When we arrived to our resort, we spent a few hours wandering around, scoping out the beaches, casino, pools, restaurants, et cetera. We dipped our toes in the water, and had a few drinks at the bar on the beach. But by the end of the night, something just wasn’t clicking; we were bored and underwhelmed.
We wondered if this week – our first vacation as a married couple – should be about spending a day or two squished onto boats or buses with other vacationers, jetting off on pre-planned, cookie-cutter excursions, or if we should really take the reigns and turn this week into something that we would truly remember for the rest of our lives.
And it was this train of thought that led us to our whirlwind road trip, a week of wandering through places we’d always wanted to go. Just the two of us. On a happy honeymoon adventure.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early and full of energy. Our adventure was about to begin! I was anxious, as might be expected for someone who really loves to have a plan, but was staring down the barrel of a week of total spontaneity. We had an idea of where we wanted to go, but no concrete plans. The only thing I knew for sure is that our flight was leaving Punta Cana that afternoon, and by the end of the day, we would be in New Orleans.
Two flights, many hours and one lost pair of Oakleys (sorry Skyler!) later, we had arrived in the Big Easy, and checked into Royal Sonesta, our amazing hotel on Bourbon Street. The buzz of the city got to us, and even after a 17 hour day of travel, we hit the streets and did what all tourists do in New Orleans: we drank. I line danced to Cotton Eyed Joe, we took a few shots of Fireball and fell asleep a little drunk, a whole lot of happy and with a few pizza stains on the sheets.
If you love New Orleans, she’ll love you back.
– Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The original Cafe du Monde was established in 1862 in the French Market, offering customers a menu of little else besides beignets and coffee made with chickory.
According to its history, coffee first made its way to North America through New Orleans in the mid-1700s. The taste for coffee and chicory was developed by the French during their civil war because coffee was scarce during those times, and they found that chicory added some much-needed body and flavor to the brew. Today, that same flavorful coffee still draws me to Cafe du Monde each and every time I’m in town. As for the beignets? Beignets were also brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. While they used to be fruit-filled, they’re now just decadent pieces of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar.
Now, I’ll be honest. When we set out on foot for Cafe du Monde on Monday morning, weaving our way through the narrow streets of the French Quarter, we were headed for the original cafe on Decatur Street. I had been there a time or two before, but I wanted to show Skyler what all the hype was truly about. But being that we had packed our suitcase full of clothes appropriate for a do-nothing resort vacation, we got seriously sidetracked when we spotted a mall. Skyler was in desperate need of a wallet. We had foregone ours, taking only the essentials and our passports, thinking that we wouldn’t need much of anything at our all-inclusive resort. And it was inside that mall, after Skyler had found a wallet that would do the trick, that the green and white stripes caught my eye — the unmistakeable mark of Cafe du Monde. I ordered an iced coffee and three beignets.
By the time we returned to our hotel, I was drenched in sweat. To be honest, that’s not unusual — I’m a pretty sweaty person. But we later learned that it was the hottest May 14th that New Orleans had ever seen, so maybe my sweat was justified. Regardless, we decided to put the bathing suits we’d packed to use, and we hit the pool. This hotel felt like the other side of New Orleans. The beautiful, historic, European, architectural side that is sometimes lost beneath the neon lights and purple, green and black beads of the street below us. The water was cool, the sun was hot, and for the first time in days, we just melted into our seats and relaxed.
In the evening, showered and sporting 1 of my 2 remaining clean outfits, we set out for Bourbon Street once again. We found a happy hour deal – a daiquiri for me, and 2-for-1 Coors Lights for Skyler. He outpaced me, and 4 beers and 1 daiquiri later, we moved on.
Dinner was at Desire, an oyster bar located on Bourbon. We both went Cajun in our choices: Skyler opted for the Jambalaya (Smoked Pork, Sausage, Spices, Jazzmen Rice) and I had the Shrimp and Grits (Yellow Stone Ground Grits, Tasso, Roasted Red Pepper Cream). It was exactly what I’d hoped it would be.
On Monday night, we whipped out our phones and spent hours staring at maps of the United States. We had a choice: we could start our road trip north, hitting cities like Memphis, Nashville and Louisville, or we could head east, through Savannah, Charleston and Carolina or Virginia beaches. Given that our suitcase was mostly full of swimwear, we decided to go east. We booked a rental car, two nights on a yacht in Charleston and hit the sack. We had a long day ahead of us.
On Tuesday, we woke up early to pick up our rental car: a 2017 white Ford Mustang convertible. We dropped the top and hit the road. It would take us a little over 11 hours to get to Charleston, South Carolina. Our plan was to drive east to Jacksonville, then north along the coast, stopping in Savannah just long enough to drive up the tree-lined avenue at Wormsloe, then continue on to Charleston. For most of the trip it rained, and consequently, I learned that it’s generally frowned upon to try to put the top up while barreling down a highway at 100 MPH.
The weather also slowed us down, so we skipped Savannah, and pulled into the marina where our boat was docked around 11:00PM. Our boat, named Sapphire, was at the very end of the dock on the far edge of the marina. To get to the marina, we had to drive down an empty back road, right off a street where gas station attendants stood behind locked door and bulletproof glass. We felt a little uneasy, and joked about the vast number of movies where mob murders take place in places exactly like where we were. Not to mention, the door that led into the cabin (and ultimately, to where we slept) could only be padlocked from the outside; it couldn’t be locked from the inside to protect us from the mobsters we imagined were waiting outside. So, we packed up our bags and headed to a more traditional hotel in downtown Charleston, only to change our minds. We had committed to the yacht, so there was no turning back. Off to the boat we went.
I’m going back to dignity and grace. I’m going back to Charleston, where I belong.
– Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler
The bed on the boat was small, and Skyler and I aren’t really tiny people. But after a very full day of driving, we had been exhausted and I slept hard.
In the daylight, I couldn’t tell you what made us so anxious the night before. The boat was cool. The cabin contained a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a bedroom and a small room at the bow with a ladder that led to the deck. Being at the edge of the marina meant that we had unobstructed views of the water — and it was beautiful.
We had to return the convertible that morning in exchange for the more practical rental car that would take us the rest of the way home. We picked up breakfast on the way back to the boat from Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. Skyler went with the classic sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, and I did the 3 for $5, opting for cheese and chive, blackberry jam and a tried-and-true buttermilk biscuit, and an Americano.
We drove past Rainbow Row, admiring the history of these iconic homes, built as early as 1680. We meandered through the Charleston City Market, gazing at piles of sweetgrass baskets, custom jewelry and chintzy t-shirts and magnets with photos of Rainbow Row as far as the eye could see. We hopped, skipped and jumped around town, all before 10AM, when we returned to the boat, a bottle of rosé in hand. Then, we turned up the heat, literally and metaphorically. We sprawled out on the deck of the boat, soaking up the strong southern rays of sun, and enjoyed our afternoon together, sipping on rosé and a few Coors Lights, getting a little drunk on love and booze.
We dined that night at Rodney Scott’s BBQ, a Charleston must, and I’m so thankful that we did. Hands down, this was the best meal that we ate all week. We both ordered the quarter chicken, soaked in brine, smoked with hardwood and slathered in Rodney’s Sauce. I chose mac and cheese and collard greens as my sides, plus an extra side of hush puppies for us to share… and it doesn’t get much more southern than that.
We capped off our night at The Ordinary, where I ordered a Pink G&T from their seriously impressive cocktail menu. I sipped and people-watched, eyeing up the waiters that sat down triple tier towers full of oysters, and bowls heaping with cool, fresh ceviche. I could kick myself for not leaving room in my stomach for a little something to nibble on, but hey — there’s always next time.
Special thanks on this day to Elliot and Heather Thomas for a whole day’s worth (and then some) of Charleston dining recommendations.
Fun is to experience things you would not have been able to experience in any other setting.
– Mike Krzyzewski, Men’s Basketball Coach, Duke University
Thursday was Skyler’s day. Up until this point, I had primarily been steering our course with places I had always wanted to see. But today, it was all about him.
We woke up and hit the road again, leaving Charleston in our rear view mirror. Our destination: Durham, North Carolina, home to the Duke Blue Devils. Skyler has been a Duke fan his whole life, so when he asked if we could make a stop for him to visit Cameron Indoor Stadium in our whirlwind honeymoon tour, how could I possibly say no?
Our drive to Durham was relatively short, and as we drove through campus, he could not wipe the grin off of his face. We made our way to the basketball stadium, a wildly small building on campus that someone who doesn’t know better (me) might mistake it for just another educational building.
The building was locked, but we stumbled upon a door that had been propped open with a brick, a small act of convenience by an unknowing maintenance worker that made Skyler’s day. We snuck inside quietly and tread lightly, trying not to draw the attention of the worker. Aside from him, we had the entire place to ourselves. Every few feet, Skyler stopped to snap a photo of something new. This place had existed only on a television screen before today, and being there in real life was surreal for him. The walkways leading to the basketball court were covered with blacked out drapes that read, “PRACTICE. CLOSED.” We were already trespassing, so Skyler ignored the restriction and ducked behind the curtain to get a close up view of the court.
We continued our tour through Duke, making stops at the university store (where we bought way too many things) and the football and lacrosse fields, then drove past building after building until we saw the chapel in the distance.
Not only is Durham home to Duke University, it’s also the town that the Durham Bulls, the minor league team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, call home. Or, you also may recognize it from Bull Durham, the 1988 romantic comedy sports film starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. We had driven past the baseball field on their way into town, and with an empty evening ahead of us, we decided to buy tickets to see the team play the Louisville Bats at night.
Before the game, we stopped in to Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom, located in the industrial American Tobacco Historic District. The highlight of this meal, for me, was the deviled eggs with pimento cheese and bacon. I had been searching for pimento cheese something the whole time we had been in the south, and this light appetizer was exactly what I had been craving. Their beer list was lengthy and impressive, and we each sampled a few different options as we ate our dinners.
I couldn’t tell you how the game went, honestly. We sat in our seats for a few minutes, then decided to move on to a bar that overlooked the outfield. Just as we were thinking of returning to our seats, black clouds rolled in and the rain let loose, and eventually, we called it a night and returned to our hotel.
It felt like the rain had been following us throughout this whole adventure, and because of the dreary weather forecast for the next day in Virginia Beach, we planned to reroute the ending of our road trip.
Friday! We were finally heading to our last stop on our road trip, but it was really hard deciding where we wanted to go. Generically, we had decided on Virginia – literally, anywhere in Virginia. We considered wineries, we considered historical sites, we considered beaches and lakes, and we just couldn’t make up our minds! So, we hopped in the car and drove north, not knowing where we would end up that day. As he drove, I just scoured the map for a place that captured our attention, and somehow, we ended up the quaint capital of Richmond.
In Richmond, we did a whooooole lot of nothing. We took a nap, watched TV, played rummy and ordered takeout. Our weeklong drive across the country had taken it out of us, and we took the time to just be with each other and relax, the very thing we had intended to do in Punta Cana. And while we weren’t digging our toes into the sandy beaches and staring out over crystal blue waters, we were happy. We talked about our favorite parts of the trip, and we relived memories all over again.
“Hey Abby, remember that one time that you lost my $150 pair of sunglasses in customs?”
“Hey Skyler, remember that one time that you got sick and threw up all over the boat?”
“Hey Abby, remember that one time that you got so excited about beignets, when it’s pretty much just a funnel cake?”
“Hey Skyler, remember that one time we completely abandoned our honeymoon to take a spontaneous road trip across the country together?”
And we fell asleep, feeling so wonderful about the week we had, and so excited to get home and snuggle with our furry little nuggets.
Thank you. Thank you a thousand times over. Thank you for encouraging adventure and for flying by the seat of your pants with me. I guess we never really have been very traditional people, and our honeymoon was no exception. This was a week that I’ll never, ever forget, and I’m so lucky that I got to spend it with you, my husband.