Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas 2013, Part I: To Florida We Go

Last Saturday, we set out for a new adventure: our first road trip with Lucia and Greta. Andrew and I took many a road trip in our pre-children days, tooling around Spain and California, taking the long way, going off the map, pulling into small, newly discovered towns and worrying about a hotel only at the last minute; or finding great luxury rooms in San Francisco through Priceline or Hotwire, not caring where we stayed. We took a few short road trips with Lucia when she was a few months old, to San Francisco and wine country; and of course we've driven to Connellsville and up to New Hampshire. But sixteen hours from New Jersey to Jacksonville was taking our family road trips to a new level. We planned the trip from necessity--four holiday-season plane tickets and mountains of presents made flying unrealistic--and really didn't know what to expect.

Andrew took command of the itinerary and planned our route down I-95, and in a rented SUV (our small station wagon wouldn't cut it for this trip), off we went. First leg: Maplewood to Silver Spring, where we had lunch with Molly and Luca. The girls had a blast playing with Luca, and Lucia christened him with a nickname: Silly Lukey. We ran into trouble after that: traffic became horrendous. We lost two hours. We were supposed to have a nice dinner in Rocky Mount, NC, but instead wound up at McDonald's. More traffic after that; but eventually we made it to our hotel in Rocky Mount, well past bedtime. Lucia was overcome at the prospect of staying at a hotel--"It's beautiful!!" she shouted as we approached it from the parking lot. Both girls were giddy at finally being out of the car. Much running between our adjoining rooms and jumping on the beds ensued. Miraculously, they did fall asleep.

The next day, we got donuts for breakfast and hit the road. We had lunch at a fabulous BBQ restaurant in Lumberton, NC, called Fuller's--Andrew had read about it on some foodie websites. It didn't disappoint. We paid at the door, were shown to a table, then hit the huge buffet. Lucia discovered a passionate, one-day love for fried shrimp. Greta ate her weight in macaroni and cheese. Andrew and I piled our dishes with vinegar-and-pepper pork. We had a great time.

Then--onward. We had a pretty rough stretch after this. Traffic on I-95 was at a standstill, so Andrew found a detour through backwoods South Carolina. He found it beautiful and charming; I was terrified. We were surrounded by swampy forest and mobile homes. We lost so much time, and had noplace to stop for dinner, and after Andrew announced we had five more hours to go--after he'd said the same thing two hours before that--we all hit a low. We pulled into a gas station. We decided the girls could just have crackers for dinner. They mutinied. We ran out of shows on the iPad. It was a dark final stretch.

But we made it to Jacksonville. We'd had Andrew's parents order us a pizza, which we devoured once the girls were in bed.

It was not the easiest drive. However, that said, Lucia and Greta were amazing travelers, surpassing all our expectations. They played with the toys we'd packed, loved the travel treat bags I'd put together for them (crayons, notebook, tiny toys), watched shows on the iPad when it got dark, slept (Greta), sang, and seemed totally game for anything, even a BBQ restaurant and sharing a hotel room. Of all of us, I probably frayed the most at that final stop, when Andrew ran into the gas station to buy crackers and bananas the girls then refused to eat and it seemed we'd never reach our destination. But we made it in one piece and, with some changes to our route, had no reason to dread the return trip.

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