Joe Bliven

Spring Break 2023

May 22nd, 2023

Our spring break road trip this year was another trip south, though I guess most road trips are when you're from the North Star State. We spent 7 days in 6 cities and crammed a lot in while our bodies fought us most of the way. Elena had just gotten over a cold as we were getting packed for the trip. I caught the cold the day before we left and Maya caught it the day we left. Amelia caught it on the drive down. We weren't about to let a little cold stop our plans, especially since we're two years behind on our road trip goals already due to covid.

Here is a gallery with lots more photos from the trip.

I picked Elena and her friend Mya up from school on Thursday. Mya had gotten permission to join us on the trip, which was so helpful. Having some good company to occupy Elena was a godsend while dealing with a sick toddler on a road trip. After packing up the van, we hit the road. A straight shot to Atlanta, only stopping for bathrooms, gas and food.

Cascade Springs Nature Preserve in ATL

Our first day in Atlanta was pretty relaxed, as we were exhausted from the drive. We went to Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Krog St. Market, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.

The next day we spent the morning at the Atlanta Zoo and ended the outing with a great budget & vegetarian friendly lunch from Howdy ATL Biscuit Cafe. Next we went to the Atlanta History Center. Our last event of the day was Centennial Olympic Park where we visited the Coca-Cola experience. The Coca-Cola experience is just okay, but the highlight is definitely trying different sodas from around the world. After the Coca-Cola experience we spent forever trying to figure out where to get dinner that was reasonably walkable. We finally settled on a place, but when we got there it was closed! We just walked around downtown aimlessly, which was a nice experience in itself. The weather was gorgeous and the city was bustling. We eventually stumbled into a restaurant that would suffice. After eating we walked back to the park and made it just as they were locking the gates.

Checking out the beautiful city of Atlanta

That night Maya was having a hard time sleeping, her sickness was getting to her and she was screaming like crazy. I ended up taking her for a drive in the van. She would doze off for a bit and I would park and nap too, until she would wake up again and we would drive around again. We continued this process for a few hours before going back to sleep in the hotel again.

After our night of van driving and stitched together sleep, we woke up, packed up the van in the rain, and hit the road for Savannah, GA. We got into Savannah just in time to attend our free walking tour. The tour was great, and our tour guide was quite the charming character. I developed a competent impression of him that I would whip out throughout the rest of our trip. Savannah is a gorgeous town. The city squares evenly spaced throughout, the beautiful old architecture and historic buildings, the live oak trees with Spanish moss hanging from them all work together to make a beautiful impression in my memory. The dissonance of the beautiful scenery and my body struggling to be present was an odd feeling. It was a beautiful foggy waking dream. I had to make a short detour to cvs and meet back up with our tour group. The combination of all the pollen in the air, my cold, and lack of sleep had busted a gasket on my sinuses and my nose was running through tissue at a rate that could never be met through sustainable forestry.

Our tour ended at Forsyth Park. I can't get enough of those trees!

Next we had lunch. Maya was still feeling sick and beat from the poor sleep.

After the tour and a nice lunch we walked down to the riverwalk. It had been a beautiful day up until this point but clouds were starting to roll in. The girls went into a gift shop while I waited outside. Maya sat in her stroller watching people walk by, while I sat on a bench and closed my eyes for a short respite. We started walking down the riverwalk again, when I realized I didn't have my phone and had probably set it next to me on the bench. I ran back for it but it wasn't there. Amelia pressed me to remember where it might be but my mind was failing me and could give me nothing but foggy details. We tried calling it, but it went straight to voicemail which led us to believe it had been stolen. While I tried to access the find-my-phone feature from Amelia's phone, Maya dozed off in the stroller (almost dropping her lollipop, if not for a kind bystander noticing her grip was failing), Elena and Mya went to play at the park across the street and Amelia disappeared as rain started coming down. I was unable to access my account from Amelia's phone. After making multiple calls to my phone and having some ring unanswered, and some go straight to voicemail I had reached the conclusion that my phone had certainly been stolen and I would not be finding it. Eventually Amelia returned and told me that the gift shop had security cameras and they had caught footage of the thief. I looked around at all the people trapped under awnings, waiting for the rain to clear. It occurred to me that if the thief didn't have an umbrella, they likely hadn't gone far. I hastily went into the gift shop to review the security footage, got a good look at the guy, and went outside to hunt him down. I step outside, glance around, and see the dude across the street, like 50 feet away, probably 20 feet from Mya and Elena. I walk over and see him holding my phone, I point at him, he hangs his head, and holds the phone out defeated. I turn around to see the gift shop proprietor in the doorway cracking up. Thanks to Amelia and the gift shop people for helping me recover my phone.

A frame of the security footage showing me walking away without grabbing my phone, while guy on bench decides it's his phone now.

The rain started clearing up and we walked back through Savannah to our van. We ended the day at Tybee Island, hanging out on the beach. It was a little chilly, but not for Minnesotans. If you're a Minnesotan teenager it was even warm enough to swim until the sun was nearly gone. We left the beach and drove to the Sonic next to our hotel, ate some fast food and went to the hotel.

The next morning we were heading to Charleston, SC. Last Spring Break I had failed my attempts in Louisiana to see an Alligator. I was really hoping to redeem myself this trip, but had left Georgia without a single attempt. I figured Charleston would be my last chance, but I wasn't sure there would be much opportunity. We had ended the previous day at the beach, and we decided to start this day at the beach. We went to Isle of Palms County Park. It was a well maintained beach that had signs telling us turtles were nesting somewhere. Mya even found a baby turtle walking around! After a long morning at the beach, these crazy clouds started to roll in. It looked terrible and we could see the downpour had already started further down the beach. We rushed to the van and went to a restaurant on the same beach. By the time we parked the rain had already cleared. I don't think this is a unique sentiment, but I love eating at beachside restaurants so much. By this time the illness had mostly left me and only the exhaustion remained. It was a beautiful day and felt like the vacation had just started, though it was really half over.

Next we went to Patriots Point Naval Museum where they have decommissioned an aircraft carrier, a submarine, and a destroyer that you can tour. It's pretty neat. In the harbor there I saw something big splashing in the water. At first I thought I might finally be seeing an alligator, but soon realized it was actually a pair of dolphins! That was cool. Next we walked around Charleston a bit, but it was a pretty rainy day so we turned in early.

Our last stop in the Charleston area was the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. When we got there I saw some alligator signs and got excited. As soon as we got our tickets and left the visitors center I was on the prowl. My eyes sharpened and I was scanning everywhere to try and see an alligator. We probably only walked 200 feet and there on the riverbank I saw her, a big one! It was so cool just flopped up on land, just hanging out all alligator like. Later on our walk we even saw another little alligator in the water. It was a very hot day and we walked four miles with little shade. By the end of our walk we were all pooped and ready for a soda from the gift shop and a long ride to Raleigh, NC. We got East Bay Deli on our way out of town, and that place makes a mean sandwich, I tell you what!

I snapped a blurry pic of the small gator. I didn't dare get close enough for a picture of the big boy!

On our way to Raleigh we stopped to see Amelia's aunt Connie at her work in Tar Heel. It was a nice little visit. We met her coworkers and had cookies. She bought the girls snacks from the vending machine. The visit was short, but sweet.

Longtime readers will know that we're big library storytime nerds. During the pandemic we really fell in love with the storytime videos produced by the library system in Wake County, North Carolina. It was an important stop on our trip to visit some of the libraries and librarians that we were such fans of. Our first stop was to the Oberlin regional library for storytime with Ms. Christine. This is the library where all of the episodes are filmed. It was hard to gauge how much Maya understood what was going on. She sort of got it, but I think it was weird being in the place from the TV.

The next day, before our next storytime, we went out for coffee at a really neat place. Purr Cup Cafe in Raleigh is a coffee shop that also has a cat room where customers can play with cats. They partner with a local shelter and all of the cats are available for adoption. Most of the day, cat visits are by appointment only but early in the morning they have walk ins available. The girls got to play with cats while I sipped my London Fog and checked out the gift shop. I got a fun postcard to send to my parents and we got some cute cat sunglasses for Maya.

Maya was eager to don the new specs!

Next we went to the farmer's market briefly before heading to the North Regional Library to see storytime with Ms. Melissa. She sang all the hits and Maya had a blast, though you could tell it was a bewildering experience for her seeing Ms. Melissa in person.

Next we hit the road to visit my cousins Gracia and Sarahbeth and their daughter Aelish. Maya was so excited to play with her cousin. They had tons of fun and Maya is still talking about it. We had pizza and caught up with each other. It was a fun time but we had to go after the sun went down so we could wake up in Pigeon Forge.

First thing in the morning we went swimming. Unfortunately Dollywood was closed the one day we would be in town. Luckily Amelia found out about a newer theme park called Anakeesta. It's a mountaintop park focused on preservation. Most of the attractions are ropes courses and playgrounds. It was so beautiful and a fun place to spend the day.

Done swimming and ready for another big day!

we went to Krispy Kreme and were so excited we even had a photo shoot. Sadly Elena had given up donuts for lent, but the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed them.

we met a big tree spirit at Anakeesta

After the theme park we took the girls to do go karts, got ice cream and drove straight on to Minnesota.

It was a really fun trip. We tried to cram a lot into a short amount of time, and we certainly succeeded.