• Road Back to Canada Via Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

    October 2, 2017
  • The last leg of our road trip back to Barrie, Ontario, Canada started on Wednesday morning with our objective being to get back to spend the weekend with our daughter and family in Barrie before heading back to St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador on Monday morning! Because of our bad experience on the way down Hubby left nothing to chance going back! He booked a Hampton Inn at Ashland, Virginia just north of Richmond, Virginia for Wednesday night. He also booked the Westin Downtown Pittsburg for Thursday night. So we were all set for places to stay on the way back, a major part of the trip, no uncertainties before we left Myrtle Beach! The weather was great for driving and we were taking a different route North than the way down. We were planning to hook up with I-95 North up to Washington, DC before working westward to Pittsburg for Thursday night! Going north we relied on our I Phone to provide directions, so we were very conscious of conserving battery power. No more phone dying at the worst possible moment. We also kept our phone plugged into the car at all times. Lessons learned!!!

    Myrtle Beach Shopping Adventure Before Heading Back to Canada!

    Anyways on the road by 11:00am and following instructions from the I Phone we negotiated the back roads of South Carolina to the North Carolina border. From there we headed westwards to hook up with I-95 North. We had to maintain faith in the I Phone because we had to follow roads through some pretty poor hick towns before we got to the main interstates that led up to I-95 North. Our journey this day was expected to be around 5 hours and 30 minutes! I-95 is a really great highway. If we were not driving back to Ontario, we would stay right on I-95 right up to Maine and  the New Brunswick, Canada border.  There is all kinds of information available on  the I-95 Apple Phone App which lists in detail where all the exits are travelling north and south by US state. Also it provides information on all restaurants at each exit and the hotels in the area. So much better information available than on the highways we travelled on the way down!

    The Drive through Rural North Carolina!

    We reached I-95 at Lumberton, North Carolina around noon so it was a relief to get off the side roads and onto the main highway! No navigation decisions  for the rest of the day actually as our hotel for the night was directly off I-95 in Richmond Virginia! We pulled off I-95 near Fayetteville, North Carolina for lunch at a Burger King. Not a very good burger though and after our experience with Burger King on the way down there was no going  to be a Burger King in our future on the rest of the way back! We only chose Burger King because it was right off the road and easy access back to the I-95! It was however good enough for a pit stop, visit the washroom, get a mediocre snack and on the road again.

    Lumberton, North Carolina!

    Back on the road by 2:00 PM, and from there it was straight stress free driving for close to four hours. We found an exit off I-95 into Ashland shortly before 6:00 PM and we stopped into the Hampton Inn no problem. This was a great hotel for around $130.00 US per night (a bit expensive though by some standards). We had a 49 inch flat screen TV, complimentary Wi-Fi, a microwave, mini-fridge and a coffee maker. Breakfast was also included if you can get down before 10:00 AM. It even had a swimming pool, the beds were super comfortable, two big queen beds. This hotel had it all, great value we thought because we had such bad experiences with hotels on the way down through the USA.

    Drove Through Some Really Poor Towns in North Carolina! Cotton Fields were Nice Though!

    The Hampton Inn was located next to a Pizza Hut as well. With a microwave in the room, and some nice beverages left over from  Myrtle Beach, this looked like a plan for supper this night! I walked over to Pizza Hut across the parking lot and got a great pizza less than $15.00 US. I brought it back to the hotel room and we had a great evening meal and relaxing in front of the large TV and just shutting down for the night! It was one of those days on the road when everything unfolds as it should. Got to love those days because some days your luck runs out! Keep your wits about you, and you will be fine on the road!!

    Main Street of Chadbourne, North Carolina!

    We had a great night’s sleep at the Ashland Hampton Inn. Missed breakfast as usual, we never seem to make it down for breakfast because we like to get our sleep! Guess we are not breakfast people! We checked out at 11:00 AM and filled up the Nissan Pathfinder with gas and we were back on I-95 North before 11:30 AM. Our journey this day would be around 5 hours of driving with a break for lunch and a couple of rest stops to change drivers! The big challenge first off was to negotiate our way through the maze of highways surrounding Washington, DC, about a 90 minute drive North. Our route took us around the famous DC Beltway, a toll road. It really was a maze and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the I-Phone directions , exit by exit. Hubby did the navigating and I did the driving through the DC area! It was really a relief to get through the concrete jungle which happened to be on I-270 North. We were now in Maryland. We did not have any idea about how the toll roads worked. We paid where we went though but we seemed to just coast through others and figured that they would be added to our  car rental bill (however after we returned home we didn’t get a charge for any, guess we must have done it right).

    Saw Some Accidents in the USA on the Way Back to Canada!

    After 50 KM on I-270 North we merged onto I-70 West towards Hagerstown, Maryland. It was time for lunch so we stopped at Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. This chain has now expanded into Southern Ontario. We first enjoyed Popeye’s chicken at Nashville Airport a few years back and it was pretty good. As with most fast food restaurants the quality of the food can vary! Popeye’s chicken was not so great this time! Not having much luck with fast food on the road in the USA! Anyways back on the highway, heading west towards the famous Pennsylvania Turnpike. This limited access highway links Philadelphia with Pittsburg and is over 305 miles long.

    Turkey Shoot in Chadbourne, North Carolina!

    We joined the turnpike about 100 miles out of Pittsburg which I might add was pretty tricky and we paid $15.00 US to get on the turnpike. It was a bit of a harrowing drive through tunnels  and bordered by concrete barriers separating east-west traffic. I must say that this was the highlight of my driving experience anywhere. I drove all the way and it was just unreal for someone who had never experienced such an intense driving challenge. I was hyped all the way down by the long concrete winding turns and tunnels. An amazing drive but it was also a drive not for the faint of heart, spirit or body. You really had to concentrate on where you were on  the road to avoid the large trucks next to you and speeding past you! But I did it! A once in my lifetime experience! Maybe!!!

    Hitting the Turnpike towards Pittsburg!

    We made it into Pittsburg around 6:00 PM and there was quite a lot of traffic trying to make its way down into the City. Downtown Pittsburg seemed to be at the end of such a long winding, descending, narrow road intersecting with three rivers.  We had a reservation at the  Westin Pittsburg Downtown. We had booked it on Hotwire for $120.00 US, well below the posted rate of $185.00 US. The hotel turned out to be a lovely, a nice room with twin double beds, a little fridge, and coffee maker  for the next morning. The parking was a problem though! It was really expensive $40.00 US a night and believe me there was no where to park in Downtown Pittsburg. You are at their mercy. The city is located in a big hole with very limited parking and very few gas stations. We would find this out on our way out. So gas up before you go into the City of Pittsburg. No easy way of getting gas in this city!

    Made it to Pittsburg!

    The Westin Pittsburg Downtown is a typical hotel you would find anywhere in North America, predictable but reliable! After our Gin and Tonic we hit the streets of Downtown Pittsburg to find a nice restaurant for dinner. It had cooled off quite a bit but we were dressed accordingly.  We went for  a 45 minute walk to see the downtown and saw the sights. As we headed back uptown we dropped into August Henry’s. It looked like a nice place and not too far from our hotel. August Henry’s is billed as a restaurant and saloon in Pittsburg’s Cultural District. It was a nicely appointed saloon with a varied menu, very impressive actually. Hubby ordered his default choice, the Saloon Burger made from 100% Angus Reserve Steak, cooked to order and piled high with choice of tomato and sliced red onions on a Brioche Bun! $12.00US. I ordered a Prime Rib Panini, slow roasted with sharp white cheddar cheese with caramelized onions and horseradish sauce on a sourdough bun. Mine cost $14.00 US. So we had a great dinner for less than $50.00 US including wine each and including tax and tip. Not bad we thought!

    Downtown Pittsburg! Out for Dinner at August Henry’s

    It was a great dinner and we made it back to the hotel, no problem! A very nice night out for dinner, exploring Downtown Pittsburg with a little walk included. We had a lovely night at the Westin very comfortable, their heavenly beds are very good! The coffee maker in the room set us up great for the day to come. After coffee and tea, it was time to check out and hit the road again to head back to Barrie , Ontario. We had to be back by 6:30 PM to look after the grandkids as our daughter was working and her husband had tickets to see a rock concert that night!

    The Westin Pittsburg & the Downtown Skyline!

    We checked out and they honoured our $120.00 US booked rate, no problem there. We used Hotwire a lot and generally you always get a good deal. You just have  to pay attention to where the hotels are located on the maps they provide so you can be sure that you book a hotel that in the area of the respective city you want to be in. We have never gone wrong with Hotwire! We needed to fill up before we left Pittsburg and we knew that it was not easy to find a gas station in Downtown Pittsburg.

    Lobby of the Westin Pittsburg Downtown!

    Our I-Phone directed us to the nearest gas station, however it was a bit of a challenge going through the old downtown streets to find it. Once there we filled up and realized that we were very close to the freeway that would take us right out of Pittsburg. Hubby naviagated again while I drove, for the first few hours to get us out of Pittsburg. When on the freeway you were going uphill all the way to get out of Pittsburg. You could really realize how far down this city is in a deep valley!

    Pittsburg is a Mighty City!

    Our estimated drive was 5 hours and 45 minutes. We were on the road by 11:00 AM, so we had an hour or so of flexibility to get to Barrie by 6:30 PM. Our initial route took us up I279 North until we picked up I79 North which was the highway we took on the way down about 100 KM north of Pittsburg. We stopped at Grove City for lunch. Grove City is famous for its 130 brand outlet stores, one of the largest outlet areas for outlet malls in the USA. Pennsylvania has no sales tax on clothing, so Grove City Outlets attract a lot of out-of-state business and travellers from Canada who make day trips to take advantage of the bargains and no tax.

    View of Downtown Pittsburg From our Hotel Room at the Westin!

    There are a number of hotels adjacent to the malls and loads of restaurants. We had lunch at the Elephant and Castle. Hubby had some Guinness Irish Stew and I had the Shepard’s Pie. Both dishes were $13.50 US each but mine was a little better in taste than Hubby’s. So lunch with a beer was less than $50.00 US. I might add that the portions were huge and way too much food for one person to eat. The one thing you should remember when travelling in the USA is that lunch or dinner will cost you around $50.00 US for two which is steep if you are on a budget, so it is good to budget wisely when travelling in the USA.

    Passed Quantico Marine Base on our way Back! NCIS & Gibbs Country

    It was a nice break but we were back on the road by 1:30 PM. We were now about 2 and 1/2 hours from the Canadian Border at Buffalo, New York. So still on track for the 6:30 PM arrival in Barrie. The weather was great again, around 22 C and sunny. Really great weather for November. The drive up to Buffalo was uneventful. We got to the Canadian Border around 4:00 PM and we cleared Customs no problem. We picked up some Duty Free cigarettes for the smokers in the family. We were back in Canada and we realized that if traffic in the Toronto area was unusually bad then  so we would not get to Barrie by 6:30PM. We advised our daughter accordingly! We passed over the Peace Bridge at 4:15 PM, the QEW up  to Hamilton had very heavy traffic. We then decided to take the Ontario 407 East Express toll route to avoid all the traffic. We had a rental vehicle so the toll never ever appeared on our car rental bill, good news for sure. I have no idea what the toll would have been, but our son-in-law thought it would be significant.

    Back to Canada! Buffalo, New York and the Border Crossing!

    After the 407, a great highway which loops around Toronto and avoids the infamous 401 altogether, we merged with the 400 North to Barrie. We arrived at 7:00 pm which was in time for our son-in-law to get to his concert. Everyone was happy. We were happy to be back with our daughter and her family and to see our little grandsons again and spend some quality time with them before we had to head back to the Rock. It was certainly another great road trip to remember!!

    MK