I’ve always wanted to embark upon a road trip to see parts of the U.S. I’ve never seen. This desire has grown stronger in the past handful of years, and there were a couple of times I almost made it happen, but didn’t… until last month.
A few weeks ago Andrew and I said yes to the opportunity to drive up the East Coast to be part of an intimate wedding gathering of a dear friend who lives in Brooklyn, explore uncharted terrain together, and share an extended uninterrupted time of connection within a drastically different environment. One abundant in crisp air and fiery fall foliage. One far away from the humidity and wear of Florida. One that we could only hope would reawaken inspiration within us, serve as a perspective check, and help us bring some skin back into our game (so to speak).
Some might think driving from Florida to NYC is crazy, but we both agreed it sounded like a brilliant idea and due to recent changes on my end, we had enough wiggle rooms in our October schedules to be able to follow through and make it happen. We’re boldly calling our October road trip the best trip we’ve ever taken.
From start to finish, it was a trip rich in experience. We spent far more time basking in being and observing than we did doing or documenting. Truly, I could write a novel about our journey and how significant it was, and remains, to our individual spirits and our shared story, but I’ll save that for another time, and perhaps even another outlet.
For now, here is my attempt at delivering something of value — a sampling of sights and tastes for the sharing. If you find yourself in the cities we visited, I highly recommend the experiences and eateries mentioned here.
2,500: total number of miles driven over the course of our 10 day trip
$9.10: cost of driving on the Jersey Turnpike (one way)
$16: cost of crossing over a bridge less than 5 minutes after exiting the Turnpike
$14: cost of crossing the same bridge going the other direction (baffling)
6: estimated number of epic bridges we drove over, most notably, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
5: probable number of years I took off my lifespan due to my anxiety over 18-wheelers that insist on weaving through traffic
$45: average cost of our nightly dinner outings (including apps and dessert)
20: number of jumping photos taken
3: official number of real showers I took while we were gone (no shame)
9: total number of days I wore leggings as pants (again, no shame). Everyone has a type of attire they feel most themselves while wearing. For me, this photo nails it. Too bad it’s not something I’m able to wear regularly in Florida.
Brooklyn or Bust — Welcome to NYC
Everyone experiences cities differently. Andrew and I aren’t into spending money on things or feeling like tourists when we’re at home. This same way of existing carries over into our travels. We’re all about soaking up the city vibes and living like the locals. Since Andrew had never been to NYC, his only demand was immersing himself in the atmosphere, and walking as much as humanly possible. And that we did.
For affordability, convenience, and authenticity purposes, we opted to stay in Bedford-Styvesant, Brooklyn, or Bed-Sty for short.
From our 5th floor AirBnB apartment we had clear views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines, and were in convenient proximity to the subway.
We stayed with warm, welcoming, world-traveling, international hosts. And rooftop access was a definite selling point.
Savings Sidenote: If you’ve never booked through AirBnB but are eager to try it out, here’s a little incentive: click here to receive $20 off your first stay.
Though we were fairly warned in advance about the difficulties of driving and parking in the city, once we exited the highway and made it into Brooklyn, the rest was a breeze. We street parked the car a few blocks from our apartment for free for the entire weekend and didn’t think twice about it except occasional check-ins.
As for getting around the city, I am a big fan of the NYC subway system. It’s easily accessible and cost effective. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. The only very real challenge is figuring out what direction you need to go once you hop off the train and exit above ground.
There’s no shortage of plant-based deliciousness in NYC. It’s one thing to experience winning vegan eateries on your own. It’s an entirely different animal to share memorable meals with your best friend and fellow foodie. This trip, I experienced the joy of introducing Andrew to a few of my favorite vegan restaurants.
Manhattan Meals & Sips
Blossom: Our first meal in the city (after we layered up) was a Friday night dinner date at the famous Blossom. It was warm. We were happily cold and starving. Eager diners were sitting so close to one another the server had to scoot the table out to let me climb into the shared booth seating. Normally in situations like this I would be beyond distracted or lost in a state of sensory overload, but the fact that I was sharing one of my all-time favorite vegan eateries with my vegan love made everything else fade into the background.
We lit up with delight over how wonderful our food was. We traded bites of Lasagna (his) and Seitan Scallopini (mine). This was our one fancy, treat yourself date night and it still wasn’t crazy expensive, hence why I am an advocate for the way we choose to live and travel.
Blossom Du Jour: Friday night at Blossom wasn’t our only Blossom stop during our NYC stay. Blossom’s fast-casual eatery Blossom Du Jour is located in prime walking distance to the Highline. Although a park picnic was our original plan, since it was quite windy and cold, we ate at Blossom Du Jour before warming back up with a park walk.
Analogue Bar: The one bar we stepped into on our trip was the wedding venue in the West Village — a cocktail and jazz bar with an elegant and unassuming speakeasy feel. Here we sipped and celebrated with my dear friend Ana Sofia.
There were even polaroids onsite for the occasion.
Champs: Because I wanted Andrew to at least step foot in Williamsburg for the sake of eating the best breakfast he’s ever had, Sunday morning we headed over to Champs —Williamsburg’s hole in the wall all-vegan diner. We ordered a mix of sweet and savory breakfasts to share.
A Benedict bowl loaded with a creamy Hollandaise spin (my pick) and Chick’n and Waffles (his), with chick’n so legit it was on a stick.
LuAnne’s Wild Ginger: For Pan-Asian vegan eats, we ventured to LuAnne’s Wild Ginger just beyond our Brooklyn hood. Here we enjoyed mock seafood creations, wontons and dishes we don’t make at home.
Our favorite skyline observation point was from a post-wedding day gathering in a classic Manhattan flat. Behold, the view directly out the window.
In the midst of walking miles each day, seeing sights, and making food a part of every experience, we explored Manhattan and Brooklyn’s expansive signature parks, both of which I love.
Central Park: Although the city’s bike share program is intended for short, quick rides, we rented Citi Bikes and cruised the entirety of Central Park within an hour. This was a great way to get an overview of the park’s landscape. Between conquering hills, dodging tourists, and keeping our eyes out for serious bikers, this proved to be quite the invigorating workout.
Prospect Park: Our first trip to Prospect Park was a walking tour. We grabbed some bagels on the way, had a park picnic, and walked back to our apartment, which in NYC fashion, was about five times lengthier than anticipated.
The second time, we hopped on the shuttle (aboveground train) right by our apartment and experienced the park via a run. We ran until we found ourselves lost on the trails that weave throughout this sizable park. Then ran even more. During our run, my #brobird helped me snap some fall festive running photos for the Oiselle blog.
We both had a hard time leaving Brooklyn. Although we can’t imagine calling it home for the longterm, it’s a place we are drawn to and would welcome the opportunity to stay for a time. Time will tell.
On the way to and from NYC, we found ourselves in Annapolis—a city with waterfront appeal and small town charm similar to St. Augustine. Perhaps this is why we felt so at home.
Ceremony: Here we visited one of the most legitimate coffee shops and roasters I’ve ever been to, in the most unassuming of locations. Ceremony’s Nitro Iced Coffee very well might have been the biggest splurge of my trip — considering we returned daily during our Annapolis layover.
When we weren’t at Ceremony, we spent many hours of our time in Annapolis by the fire, in the company of wonderful, welcoming souls who were kind enough to take us in — feeling thankful.
During our second stop in Annapolis (after leaving NYC), realizing we were so close to D.C. we decided to drive down the highway and hop on the Metro to head into the city. The train ride was peaceful, although the metro system in D.C. is far more complicated than the NYC subway, at least from an outsider’s perspective.
Though only in D.C. for a matter of hours, we made it to a couple Smithsonian Museums—Air & Space and Natural History—and then wandered through the National Mall.
Andrew loves taking photos of me with a unicorn horn whenever he gets the chance. In this case, thank you Washington Monument for serving as the most majestic of horns.
While we were walking the National Mall, it occurred to me vegan chain Native Foods has an East Coast location in D.C. We decided to continue our walking, sightseeing tour and trek there for dinner to indulge on some vegan sandwiches, chili cheese fries, and pure comfort food.
To walk off our meals, we headed back toward the White House and monument land to experience the sights illuminated at night, closing out our tour at the Lincoln Memorial.
Although the heart of D.C. certainly has a curated feel, it was welcoming to see so many individuals out after dark running, biking, walking, and playing soccer.
Following our Northeast trek, we headed inland toward Asheville, NC, for a mountain retreat. Here we experienced the most beautiful, mountainous landscapes the Southeastern U.S. has to offer.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Never have I been on a drive where I’ve been more captivated by the scenery than the Blue Ridge Parkway. Growing up, I spent ever single summer up at my grandparents’ mountain cabin, situated just off the Parkway in the Northernmost part of the state. Being back on the same road in a different spot years later was a beautiful feeling. Every inch of the Parkway is different than the last, yet it’s consistent in its beauty.
During the month of October, the Parkway is lit up with bright hues.
As we followed the winding of the road and increase in elevation, we climbed from a tunnel of orange trees to trees that were already bare and bracing for winter. Our destination of the day was Craggy Gardens for a hike to the pinnacle.
How do you feel right now? Free. Me too.
Beyond our time up on the Parkway in the mountains, we spent time exploring Asheville by way of tastes.
Laughing Seed: International vegetarian and vegan cuisine tucked in the heart of downtown Asheville. This was our first stop after 10 hours of driving diagonally across the East Coast. Jalapeño fries, raw lasagna and a curry dish cured our driving dizziness and dazed state and left us feeling full and satisfied.
The Hop Ice Cream: Although I inadvertently led us to the creamery itself as opposed to the retail shop, we successfully snagged scoops of vegan ice cream. Because of our Halloween weekend timing, our scoops were appropriately themed — Dracula Blood AKA chocolate raspberry.
BattleCat Coffee Bar: Everyone has those places that make them feel at home. For me, a place with graffiti on the bathroom mirror, and show posters smattered everywhere does just the trick. Our warm coffee and bagel were equally delightful.
The Jerusalem Garden Cafe: Because the weather couldn’t have been better for an outdoor picnic (50s and sunny), we picked up hearty falafel and hummus wraps here and picnicked in the square downtown for some relaxing people watching.
Twin Leaf Brewery: Even if I hadn’t had the honor of reuniting with dear friends from home here, Twin Leaf would have been a winning brewery in my book. Not only did I get to hold someone’s dog while sitting at the bar, this welcoming brewery had delicious beer (and I’m not even a beer drinker anymore).
Much like Brooklyn, Asheville has this way about it that draws me in, and grabs my attention.
Make it happen: We talk ourselves out of opportunities daily. Although I can’t speak for all circumstances, I can say, if there’s something you’ve been yearning to do, don’t talk yourself out of it too quickly. Rearrange. Sacrifice. Find a way to make it happen if your will is strong enough. Were there difficulties for us leading up to this trip? Of course. Did we let it stop us? No.
Flexibility is crucial: Being able to roll with changes in plans, changes in costs, and changes in direction is crucial in life. Flexibility is an area I’m constantly working on. Thanks to our willingness to be flexible on this particular journey, our 7 day trip was able to become a full 10. We were able to spend time in the mountains we wouldn’t have otherwise had, and briefly say hello to my extended family on our way home.
Trust the journey (or else): This goes for any trip and for life. If there is one thing this trip reminded me over and over, it is the importance of simply trusting the journey, rather than trying to tirelessly control it.
This is it: Life isn’t a series of milestones. Life is what happens in the in between moments — no matter where you are.
In my book, what matters above all else in this lifetime is operating in love and extending that love to yourself, to those near and dearest to you, and to everyone you encounter in the places you find yourself. I don’t always succeed, but I am trying with all my might to be a more loving, trusting, flexible, faithful, spontaneous [and less fearful] human being. With the state of the world it’s not easy. But I believe it’s the best way we can be.