I left Maine on Sunday, Mar 1st and in a few short weeks the world has changed. I usually write a travel blog when I do my roadtrips and I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, but I put it aside as the Covid19 virus became a pandemic. As friends have been checking on my progress, I decided to go ahead and complete the blog even though it has not been a typical "roadtrip". I am currently making my way back to Eastport, practicing social distancing and general health safety as I head home. I am lucky, I am only dealing with altered travel plans (yes, and a hit to my retirement portfolio). But I haven't lost work, haven't had surgeries postponed or health treatments affected. For that I am very grateful.
Like many urban cities, Lancaster is undergoing gentrification, with the old brick industrial buildings being renovated. An old cork factory has been turned into a big complex of restaurants, offices and hotel, beautifully done. I liked the hip, urban vibe in a smaller city feel. Seems like a very livable place.
Spent the day driving around Lancaster County to check out the covered bridges and explore the countryside. I stopped to shop at Ross and it was surreal to see Amish (probably Mennonite) women shopping there. And you do see buggies, men driving horse- drawn plows and women hanging their “plain” clothing on the lines to dry. Another world for sure.
If the threat of the Covid19 virus wasn't enough, I was enroute to Nashville when the tornado hit. I checked with my AirBnB hosts because my place in East Nashville was less than a mile from the tornado path, but my hosts assured me that they were safe, power was on and all was ok in their neighborhood.
East Nashville is a young, hip part of town. I took the dogs out to explore my neighborhood and happened by chance upon the tornado path. Very surreal because one block is untouched, the next block a mess, then the next unscathed. I had only seen pictures of tornadoes in rural areas, but this one hit parts of Nashville with a laser-like precision.
My first day in Nashville was a glorious day, and people were out cleaning up, chatting with their neighbors and in good spirits. In fact, the East Nashville renaissance came in the wake of a tornado in the late 90s, so the people here are very resilient and positive. Quite remarkable really.
My AirBnB is Ravenwood Manor, a small brick bungalow, fixed up nicely like the others on the block. In fact whole area looks like an episode of Fixer Upper. The brick bungalows have been painted (tasteful shades of white, grey, slate blue, sage green) with new shutters and posts, and a pop of color on the doors. The owner of my place is a musician (isn’t everyone in Nashville?) and a wood and metal artist - you can see his handiwork in the cottage and the custom metal Ravenwood Manor sign.
One of the ways that I like to get to know a new city is to explore the street art and Nashville (like New Orleans) is known for some of its iconic works. Here is a sample of the gorgeous murals around town.
I’m not a huge country music fan so I opted not to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I do love the “Man in Black” so I checked out the Johnny Cash Museum. What an inspirational man with a long, storied life and career. At the museum exit, they play the video “Hurt” from 2003 (cover of the Nine Inch Nails song) and I was crying like a baby (along with everyone else). I think June and Johnny both passed away within a year of this video. I dare you not to be moved by this, it is heartwrenching:
After the museum, I only lasted about 20 minutes on Broadway. Broadway is the Nashville equivalent of Bourbon St - music, both good and bad, blares from every honey tonk, ALL DAY long. But there were other opportunities to hear great live music (one event was cancelled due to corona virus fears, an indication of things to come). Jazz at the City Winery and at Cheekwood Gardens. The Singer/Songwriter showcase at 3rd and Lindsley was fantastic. But my favorite was Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. They have 2-3 events per night from country to bluegrass. I caught Mark Thorn and the Sidekicks and they were a treat.
I arrived in NoLa on March 13th. Last year I had hundreds of photos of NoLa activities - Mardi Gras, second line parades, street parties. What a difference a year makes. Instead of a 5 week visit, it was a mere 5 day visit under the cloud of social distancing. The St. Paddy’s Day parades were cancelled, French Quarter Festival cancelled and by my third day in NoLa bars and restaurants were closed.
I hated to cancel my 5 week stay (booked almost a year ago) but with much angst (and alot of pressure from my sister in CA who kept saying "GET BACK HOME!"), I decided to return home. AirBnB was allowing full refunds for cancellations and my host understood, even though it was a big loss of income to him.
Once I decided to head back to Eastport, my concern was finding safe, clean accommodations on my journey home and managing my isolation. Because it is both tiring and uncomfortable to drive more than 4-5 hours per day alone with the dogs, that meant a 7-8 day return trip home. Fortunately many AirBnB hosts continue to provide accommodations, so I have been able to stay in beautiful apartments with self check-in. Keeping a 6 foot+ distance from people, armed with disinfectant wipes at gas stations and rest stops, and loaded with audiobooks (by favorite authors Celeste Ng, Anne Tyler, Lisa See, Barbara Kingsolver), I headed north.
Last year I passed through Pensacola during Spring Break and the beach towns were packed with people. This time, the beaches were deserted. Beautiful sand, fine as granulated sugar. I was surprised to see most of the souvenir shops open, but the parking lots were empty.
I enjoyed a scenic drive to my overnight stop in Thomasville GA, through acres of pecan orchards and old plantations. My AirBnB was top notch, my host has 2 units and upgraded me to the executive apartment which was an absolute luxury.
I booked a funky apartment in the historic Victorian district of Savannah. I was nervous about the place having a bit TOO much funk, but it was inviting, charming and comfortable for me and the pups.
After an evening bingeing on HGTV, I loaded my car for check out the next day and chatted (from a safe 6+ foot distance) with a young guy from Florida, checking out of the unit next door. As I admired his stash of paper towels visible thru his hatchback, he proudly displayed his package of Lysol wipes. I countered with my new spray bottle of 409 disinfectant spray. Ah, small talk in the pandemic age.
Surprisingly heavy traffic on 95 (lots of Canadian license plates) plus several accidents added extra travel time but finally I settled in overnight in the propeller house in Fayetteville NC, so named because the owner is retired Air Force and the house has old propellers from the 40s-50s incorporated into works of wall and garden art.
After an easy Sunday drive to Richmond, I arrived at my gorgeous house in Jackson Ward, near the arts district. Walked the dogs around the deserted, cherry tree lined streets, taking photos of the street art.
Woke to a rainy morning. I’ve got a couple more days of driving before I arrive home sweet home but will end my blog here.
I'm looking forward to continuing my social distance from the comfort of my Passamaquoddy Bay view home instead of my tiny Nissan Versa Note. But I’ve been grateful for a safe and pleasant journey and I am hopeful that there will be a return to some sense of normalcy soon.
Hope that everyone is staying safe and healthy. Virtual hugs to you all, my friends.