Taking the Blue Route to St. Louis

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dan Gifford of Arlington is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and to become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Two round-trip road trips between Washington and St. Louis, where my partner and I have family. The catch: We stopped only in counties and cities with Democratic voting records, first using the 2004 presidential election results and then the 2006 midterm election results.

WHEN: April 2006 and March 2007. After the midterm elections, the 2007 road trip had many more possibilities.

WHY: For some, politics is everything; for others, everything is politics, including travel. We decided to spend our money in the pockets of blue within the sea of red.

WHO WENT: My partner of 11 years, Steve Shaffer, and I. The recent debates over gay relationships gave our Blue America Road Trip personal resonance.

THE PLANNING TOOLS: Atlas? Check. Online review sites? Check. County-by-county election results? Check. You gotta hand it to CNN: Its Web site made finding those blue patches pretty easy.

THE ROUTES: Last year, we traveled to Durham and Asheville, N.C., then to Dover, Tenn., and on to St. Louis, returning via Nashville. This year, we took a northern route through Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, to St. Louis, returning via Louisville.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Planning a blue-only trip through the upper South in the wake of the 2004 election was no easy task. However, Stewart County in Tennessee went Democratic that year, allowing us to add a beautiful stop along the Cumberland River. We spent the night in an antebellum mansion, now a bed-and-breakfast called the Riverfront Plantation Inn, and toured the Civil War battlefield at Fort Donelson. Was it just coincidence that we saw nesting bald eagles?

THE EXCEPTION: For both trips, we stayed pretty true to our rules. The one exception was Asheville. We decided to overlook the fact that in 2004 Buncombe County went red by a thin margin -- just over 600 votes.

BEST ACCOMMODATIONS: We were glad we bent the rules because we spent two nights in the incredible Bittersweet Cottage, an Arts and Crafts house overlooking Asheville and the Smokies. Happily, Buncombe County went very blue in 2006, so we'll be back.

FAVORITE MEAL: Primo Restaurant on Market Street in Louisville has a thin-crust pizza that still calls to me at night. A close second would be the Fire and Ice (a blend of seafood, habanero peppers and granita) at Seviche in Pittsburgh.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: Dubbed the American Tobacco Historic District, the old Lucky Strike factory in Durham is a renovated industrial campus with restaurants and bars, including Tyler's Taproom, with more than 60 beers on tap (so you can take in both history and hops).

BEST HIKE: Outside Asheville, the DuPont State Forest has a terrific trail overlooking three waterfalls. You don't realize all the various shapes and sizes of waterfalls until you see one after another.

BIGGEST SPLURGE: In Nashville, we booked a night at the Hermitage Hotel, sister to that venerable grand dame in Richmond, the Jefferson. Across the street at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, we attended a performance of the Nashville Symphony orchestra accompanying Bugs Bunny cartoons.

NEXT UP: We're taking our blue America concept out West and are planning a Four Corners tour made up entirely of blue-voting counties. And after 2008, who knows? We could very well have some brand-new routes to plot.

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