The news that Chelsea had been accepted into a graduate program in New York was bittersweet: it meant that we'd be leaving our loving community in San Francisco, and that a traditional honeymoon might be out of the question. We struggled to figure out how to squeeze a trip into the month of August, between our August 1st wedding and the start of the fall semester, but the timing seemed impossible, and the expense, astronomical. As longtime food lovers (we first fell in love over edamame at the Asian restaurant where we both worked), our tummies had been rumbling for a delicious Italian honeymoon adventure for years. We'd dine on fresh, handmade, chewy pappardelle, bite into crispy thin Neapolitan pizza, swirl Montepulciano wine in our mouths... but reality check: we would have four weeks and 3,000 miles between us and a new life in New York, where we had yet to find jobs and an apartment, and we knew we couldn't afford an international trip with all that on the horizon. We sadly put our fantasies of a romantic European adventure on the shelf. As we weighed our options for the cross-country move, though, a new possibility began to take shape – a honeymoon roadtrip!
All spring, we came home from work each evening giddy, ready to pore over maps, menus, and friends' emailed advice to plot out our route... and our meals! Our fascination with regional food traditions motivated us to plan stops in nearly a dozen cities, where we intended to sample and savor the dishes that each area was famous for. Traveler's Joy helped us to plan all the details of our trip, and friends were able to contribute to the many dining missions on our agenda. We would leave California on August 10, to give ourselves a few final days after our wedding to say goodbye to friends and prepare ourselves for a three week adventure on the road. We threw one final going-away potluck dinner in San Francisco, packed ourselves and many bags of trail mix into our tiny Toyota rental, and pointed the car toward the Bay Bridge.
Arches National Park offered us a chance to stretch our legs after hundreds of miles of sun-baked Nevada desert, and we hit the ground running. Mike relished the chance to work photographic magic in the surreal and rugged landscape, and Chelsea practiced yoga atop thousand year old rock formations. At night, we gaped at the brilliant stars, unmasked and glorious in the Utah desert. Our trusty tent provided affordable and cozy accommodations, and fireflies lit our path toward the campground's public pool. Luxury!
Next stop: New Mexico. Good friends had been luring us with descriptions of the majestic sky and lazy, puffy clouds of Albuquerque for quite some time, but none of their words did justice to the gentle blue expanse that welcomed us to the rust-colored desert. In Santa Fe, we munched on sopapillas (lightly fried doughy "pillows" of deliciousness) drizzled with honey and fantasized about a life lived in the drowsy world affectionately dubbed by New Mexicans as "the Land of Manana," where everything can happen... tomorrow. We visited a Japanese spa nestled in the Santa Fe National Forest, where we melted into hot whirlpools on an outdoor deck, under pine trees and a threat of thunder. We spent a magical night on the Pecos River with old friends and new, devouring rainbow trout caught fresh that day by our friend's grandmother, known to the entire community simply as Granny. We slept beside the campfire, our fingers sticky from s'mores, and awoke refreshed, bound for dusty, hot, proud Texas.
At times, the trip seemed like a comedy of errors - our sad little rental car, which we'd lovingly dubbed Gertie, was rear-ended in southern New Mexico (we were fine, but cranky). Later, distraction due to good conversation over an episode of "This American Life" on the way to Austin put us on the wrong route, taking us a few hours west rather than east. The proverbial (and literal) bumps in the road taught us new lessons on how to work as a team, though, and how to make the most of each situation, and our long detour toward El Paso led us to the best bowl of spicy menudo (Mexican tripe soup) and refreshing homemade watermelon agua fresca that we'd ever had. Austin finally welcomed us with warm (sweaty, sticky) open arms, and plate upon plate of smoky, rich, savory barbecue, which our friends had been more than happy to sponsor for us on Traveler's Joy. We left Texas with full bellies and a doggie bag full of ribs, which we cheerfully munched in the car on our way into Louisiana.
New Orleans had beckoned us with a sultry southern drawl and the promise of fried oyster po'boys since we began to plan the trip, and not even the torrential downpour we encountered outside the city could keep us away. We treated ourselves to three nights at the Hotel St. Pierre in the French Quarter, our longest stop on the trip, and trotted gleefully each night to Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets dusted with powdered sugar. In the warm, close evening air, we could barely feel where our skin ended and the slow, dreamy city began. We ate plates of fried catfish by the lazy Mississippi and seriously considered giving up our plans of moving to the Northeast in favor of putting down roots in New Orleans, opening an orchid nursery or bed and breakfast or art gallery. We were as relaxed as we'd ever been, intoxicated by the South.
But we had more friends and family to see, and by that point, our impromptu Facebook fan club was clamoring for news of our next adventure. We visited the Memphis Farmer's Market and bought beautiful, inky-indigo eggplants and sunny yellow squash for our hosts in St. Louis. There, we braved long lines to sample creamy, delicious, addictive frozen custard at Ted Drewe's, studded with candy chunks and so thick that it stays in the cup even when held upside down. We lost ourselves in huge steaming bowls of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), a testament to the vitality and culinary genius of the Vietnamese population in Missouri, and felt rejuvenated by the warm hospitality of one of our best friend's parents, who graciously housed us. After a restful two nights, we headed east once again, this time toward Cleveland, where Mike's extended family welcomed us with hugs from a dozen nieces and nephews, all under the age of five, and a bowl of homemade spaghetti as big as one of the kids. We spent the evening with cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and great aunts. We recounted our adventures and mishaps over pitzels (Italian anise cookies) made by ninety-five year old Great Aunt Laura, a first generation Italian-American. We realized that we didn't need to go to Italy to experience Italian culture at all, and slept well in the safe comfort of family.
One last stop stood between us and New York, and though we were ready to sleep in our own bed once again (we crossed our fingers that our movers would arrive in New York around the time that we did), we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Chelsea's side of the family, Aunt Carol and Uncle Willman, who had lived in the City of Brotherly Love for fifty of their ninety years. Our tour of the city began with Italian hazelnut gelato (Italian food follows us, we swear) and ended with a taste-test of the two famous institutions for Philly cheese steaks - Geno's and Pat's, across the street from one another in South Philly. While we were hard-pressed to choose between the two, we did agree that Cheez Whiz beat American or Provolone by a long shot, and that onions were essential. (Order it "whiz, wit" - Cheez Whiz, with onions - and you'll be all set.) And yes, we did see the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin's grave - we are American, after all - but mostly because they were on the way to the Reading Terminal farmers market, which opened in 1893 and boasted the best pickles on the planet. When we finally landed in New York the next day, exhausted but happy, we were more than ready for a big salad, a hot bath, and a home.
The road trip was much more affordable than a trip to Italy might have been, but it didn't come without its expenses. We were able to offset the total cost of around $5,000 with over $1,000 from Traveler's Joy - a huge help! Our friends and family loved contributing to our adventure through the website, helping to pay for our barbecue dinner in Texas, massages in Santa Fe, gas, museums, and road snacks along the way. We carefully planned our route based around cities where we were able to spend time with friends and family, especially folks who weren't able to make it to the wedding, which helped to keep the cost down. When friends ask if the trip was amazing, we don't hesitate to answer, "YES!" - but we follow that enthusiasm with, "but it was hard." Nineteen days in a car with ANYONE is difficult, let alone someone with whom you've just undergone a massive, scary, thrilling, life-altering rite of passage. But we are grateful for every second of our epic adventure, especially each challenge, which helped us remember why we are so much in love, and how we fit together like puzzle pieces, and how we are stronger together than we are alone. A road trip was an amazing way to begin our new life together, to turn a symbolic journey into a literal one, and we'd recommend the experience to any adventurous newlyweds. One piece of advice, though: don't forget to pack the Alka Seltzer.