The Chicago Extravaganza

Last week we went on an adventure up to Chicago to visit AJ’s family, my dad and to sight-see our nation’s southern-mid-west.

The original plan:
5 days
7 states
1 car
The final outcome:
8 days
10 states
2 cars
Final Cost
(for just me):
It was quite an adventure.
So we left Tampa at about 1am on Friday morning so we would get to Huntsville, AL in time for daylight. We stopped off at a mud hole in Georgia for some pictures and on the side of a cliff on the AL border to enjoy the view of the farm speckled valleys. We got to Alabama for a quick exploration of the rocket museum so Dad could show off his town and by 7pm we were on our way to Nashville!
This is when the excitement begins.
Halfway through I-65 our trusty Jeep Liberty, Chobee, starts knocking. We panic and pull over to the nearest gas station. AJ checks the oil and ends up filling it with 5 quarts before we decided to be on our way again. We start the engine and slowly make our way to the freeway and the engine still makes the loud clanging. We immediately go to the nearest possible town, Columbia, TN.
We were stranded halfway to Chicago in Columbia, TN where we would call the local Walmart parking lot home for the next however-long until we fixed the car.
We take the night to ourselves, having not slept much the night before, and decide to sleep in the jeep as we planned. We wake up to tow the car to the nearest Jeep dealership, which we ended up passing on the way in. The technician meets with us and says it will be about 3 hours before they will know the cause of the problem. It only took him 30 minutes to diagnose it and return to us with the news it was a dead engine.
So the car not being worth the cost of putting in a $6,000-$4,000 engine we decide our best and cheapest option between renting a car, getting a uHaul, or buying a completely new car was to buy the new car. We finally leave Columbia in a new, 2007 Honda Fit a day late, a call into work, and a decision to keep the trip going later. We begin to head to Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago and we left Columbia, TN to never see the Jeep again.
We enter Nashville with only 20 minutes to spare due to buying a car that day with a scene that was similar to Gasparilla or Mardi Gras. People filled the streets of the Nashville bar scene at 3pm with more drunk and confused tourists than I ever knew could be in one place on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. We walk through the streets and enjoyed walking by the many bars full of people dancing and local artists singing country tunes. Hoards of people were filling the ice cream shops that sweaty southern day in-between all the bars and shops.
After making it to the car before the parking enforcement found out we didn’t pay we rushed our way to St. Louis so I could show Aj where I used to live, the Arch and the funnest place in all of Missouri, City Museum. (City Museum is a huge jungle gym for kids and adults that includes long slides, a large ball pit, carnival rides on the roof, and caves you can crawl through in the building.)
We finally make it to Chicago, late that night close after midnight, feeling like zombies and excited to sleep in a bed. After a day of enjoying AJ’s family’s company to celebrate his birthday we left the following day to explore the long awaited city of Chicago! Driving through underground roads that I’ve seen in Batman: The Dark Knight the city opened up to massive walls of skyscrapers and train tracks hovering over the streets. We visit all the sights of the city including Willis (Sears) Tower, Buckingham Fountain, Millennium Park, and of course The Bean.  After stopping at Pizano’s Pizza to get some deep dish we ended our day of long walks through city blocks and tourist scenes at Navy Pier to snap the sunset. (Because I’m obsessed with the sunset.) Chicago was just as amazing as I thought it would be and I cant wait to explore more of the city next time. We made our way home to the suburbs of the city to prepare for the day of driving ahead.
Or so we thought.
The next morning we go to brunch with AJ’s family and we plan to leave that morning, until the check engine light illuminated the dashboard of our new Fit we affectionately named Columbia. We take it to the local Honda dealership and we are told the car needs a Valve Adjustment.
 So we take their courtesy car, travel to the mall to waste some time and pick up some Indian food to spend another night in Chicago. We pick up the car the next morning, say our goodbyes to everyone in town, and then make our way back south for the long drive ahead. Passing corn fields and windmills the sunset takes over the sky.
We get to Indianapolis and stop by in the city to explore. We find the capitol building and a town center circled around a war monument and framed by an American flag through the windows of one of the office buildings centered in the little city. The small round-about seemed to be the main attraction for locals who were climbing around the monument and enjoying the night streets of little Indianapolis. We finished our exploring and made our way to Louisville where we briefly circled the downtown streets, the Yum! Center and finally found comfort in a nearby hotel.
Waking up in Louisville and ready to continue our journey, something changed in the air telling us we were back in the south. It could have just been the humidity though… We explore the city in the daylight one last time and then make our way an hour through the state to kill some of the driving. We stop in a KFC to have real Kentucky fried chicken and we pass the home of KFC before starting our journey through the Smokey Mountains.
The mountains opened up out of nowhere and surprised me, I never thought mountains that could even compare to those in the West were in the South-East but here they were. The rain came and went as we approached the foothills and the hills got larger. The fog weaved in and out of the land until we reached the mountains of North Carolina. I searched for Waterfalls in the area and the first Google post listed Best 60 Waterfalls Near Asheville, NC and after making the hard decision on which would be best to see we stopped upon Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls.
After we made our way to another Columbia, this time Columbia, SC, ate dinner at an awesome little place called the Flying Saucer in a tucked away college town, we found camp again in Charleston, SC where we would sight-see the next morning and potentially make our way back to home base in Tampa.
Right before reaching Charleston we hear the engine making another funny noise. We end up taking the little Fit to the third car dealership this trip and spend our morning waiting for our car to be fixed once again. We walk around in the local mall and finally by the afternoon, after getting new spark plugs and a carbon cleaning we are back on track with this chaotic vacation. We walk around the old Historic Market and explore the cool town of Charleston including the Pineapple Fountain and Rainbow row, and decide one more night of vacation is in order after all these car problems.
We start to head straight back to Florida from there and stop in Jacksonville to get food, then St. Augustine where we spend the night in another Walmart parking lot.
We spend the day in the oldest town in America, and enjoyed Castillo de San Marcos as well as all the little streets of the historic site. We made a stop at Flagler College, realized that there is a school in the world that looks more like a castle than my own alma mater, University of Tampa, and then made our final stop at Winter Springs where I had a nostalgic visit in my old home base before finishing our trip in Tampa.
After seeing the most of this country I think I’ve digested at one point in time it really puts into perspective how beautiful my city is.. And how shitty the drivers are here as well.. It was a great experience exploring the country and the funny part was, I didn’t once feel homesick. I think that and the fact my boyfriend and I didn’t kill each other on the journey proves that this is not only what we need to do more often but that travelling is apart of my DNA.
Stay tuned for more adventures to come!


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