1800 miles

End of Holidays and time to get away – at least some years you can. Last year, I decided to drive down to Myrtle Beach. Now, typically people go down south for warmer weather. Looking at the forecast, it would be nowhere near warm. More like 30s was the reality. But we decided to anyway. The first day, driving out near 8:45 we hit the famous Beltway traffic near DC and lost about an hour and a half. So when we stopped for lunch, it was just outside Richmond and close to 2 pm. It is easy to just step out and drive knowing that we can grab food somewhere along the way. Not only did we save a lot of time, we had great food as well for lunch compared to the run-of-the-mill restaurant food. Continuing down 95, we soon reach North Carolina and from there on 95 becomes a toll-free road and with it, it becomes narrower two-lane road. The afternoon traffic was heavy and almost bumper-to-bumper but it kept on moving. We reached Raleigh and our hotel around 7 PM. The Marriott was pretty deserted and the cold was brutal with the wind. The guy at the front desk treated us royally and gave free appetizer coupons to the restaurant, which apparently had no visitors at that time. We had to forgo the offer as we had booked dinner at the South Raleigh Mall(?) at an Indian restaurant that I had visited almost 10 years ago – Azitra. Azitra was still the same, upscale place. It was less crowded for the evening. Unlike malls in the north during holiday time, here there were far less people. Maybe the 30s weather was too much to handle for such a warm place generally. After dinner, my plan was to walk the stores among the holiday lights, but we had started to feel the cold as well so we drove back to the hotel.

The next morning, breakfast was very unwelcome. It was like stepping into a hall lacking any sense of urbanity – how do you feel when you step in and practically every head turns your way. Well, after feeling apprised, I settled down at a table. Having lived practically all of three years at hotels, this sort of treatment has stopped getting onto me. Our next stop was Charleston, South Carolina. The four-hour drive was easy and we reached busy Charleston around 3 pm after stopping at a Panera on the way somewhere. I came to realize the land isn’t as exposed to the world as the Northeast’s urban centers. Driving by, it felt life was still old-fashioned at many of the small towns we drove by – hardly a mall but a strip mall, a couple of stores – one had to be selling fireworks and firearms, no signs of a school but a desolate gas station and occasionally a busy one with an inside store to grab some fast food. Lovely Charleston’s waterside was the attraction at the Marriott on the waterside. The city, though small, was a busy one. We booked a shuttle to go downtown – the Pineapple fountain and an old church was our destination for the day. We got off the bus and walked to the fountain but came to realize it wasn’t the Pineapple one later on. We walked the charming streets of Charleston, a couple of old churches all impeccable in appearance. The temperature was below freezing and even we started to feel it. Feeling it was too early for dinner, we waited for the shuttle. On our way into town, we drove by the Battery park lined with old, imposing colonial era houses. It was a sight indeed.

The next morning we drove to the Magnolia plantation. The historic house within was interesting and lot of history behind it, how the once rich owner went broke during the Civil war and turned the house into a place the public could visit, being the first to do so in those times – I am talking more than 100+ years back. The gardens still carried the pride of those days and gave a glimpse of the life-style of the times. We stopped at the old Slave market where slaves were traded and reading through the display, I felt sick inside. Reading about how the owners would separate families while selling them and these humans not knowing whether they will be together with the family till the last minutes was indeed an indication of the extent some human beings will go to exploit and prosper at the expense of others. Can you imagine, if not for the efforts and leadership of one man – Abe Lincoln, we could still be officially selling fellow human beings?

Leaving behind the picture-perfect Charleston, we reached Myrtle beach in the evening. It was a very busy drive, driving by the Atlantic Ocean for more than fifty miles. So many waterside towns prosper because of tourism. Shopping,  Restaurants and hotels lined the towns galore. It is interesting to realize how living can be different  – some slog it off mindlessly without realizing the benefits before they go, some enjoying life with what they have, some being angry for no good reason, some making it work despite challenges – these thoughts crossed my mind endlessly as I drove through the dark. The resort was packed – looked like all beings had decided to converge in onto here. A regional Bridge championship was the reason. The weather was no different though from what we had seen so far and we didn’t get to enjoy the beach except for a couple of walks along. The Saturday though, the temperature reached low 50s and we made the most of it at the beach. We loved the lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant while hating the dinner at an Indian place – the former had more healthy choices for a reasonable price and the latter, greasy food at nearly twice the cost.  It is not often we come across an Azitra or a Bombay place at Salt Lake City.

New Year’s Eve went by and I slept through the ball dropping. We had a 10 hour drive back home and I wanted to catch-all the sleep I could. The holiday served the drive well with most of the work-related traffic off the streets. DC and Baltimore traffic was still neck-to-neck and got back loving every minute of the drive on the Outback.

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