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Only 3 states, but still we did 2600 miles in 3 weeks...

This time we have decided on a new type of holiday - home exchange. We've signed up to the website, advertised our home and few days later a nice couple from North Carolina contacted us with their offer. As we've never been to this part of the States before and the house and the area looked interesting we've accepted the offer. After exchanging lots of emails and Facebook messages we ended up at Charlotte Douglas International airport. US Airways flight was awful and we were happy we were on the ground. We then spent about an hour behaving like kids in the sweet shop choosing rental car and we were on our way in beautiful Ford Crown Victoria (our for the next three weeks).

About 5 hours' drive later we arrived at log cabin in Smoky Mountains (somewhere between Pidgeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee). It was late in the evening and the noise grasshoppers were making was a bit too scary for Julia - she didn't want to leave the car :) The cabin was beautiful, we had breakfast there every morning and relaxed on the patio. Smoky Mountains reminded us a bit of Polish mountains, but obviously on a grander scale.

We took an easy paved hike up to a waterfall (everyone envied Max as he was asleep, being pushed up the hill in a buggy with air temperature about 34 Celsius).

We went on amazing drives up and down small mountain roads, went to see old settlers' town and spent as much time as we could relaxing.

Julia and Max enjoyed themselves in the swimming pool that was set in the beautiful surroundings in the valley.

After 4 nights in the mountains we headed for Cherokee, North Carolina.

On the way to Cherokee we stopped on the North Carolina - Tennessee border and climbed an interesting tower at the peak of the mountain. The view was amazing, although most of the time it was covered by clouds.

Cherokee Indian Village was very much designed for tourists, we went on a tour and learnt about Cherokee Indian's past. We then spoke to a very nice guy called Bear who told us more about their tribe and answered most of our questions.

Blue Ridge Parkway was next. It's considered one of the most picturesque drives in the World - we only did first hundred miles or so and we could see why that is - views were amazing (although not easy to spot through the trees...)

After that it was a long drive to Sneads Ferry - small fishing village on the beautiful coast of North Carolina. We swapped homes with Matt and Shirley. They stayed in our house and enjoyed London and Ireland and we had an amazing time in their beautiful house. We had lots of fun discovering their neighbourhood, visiting local unspoilt beaches, eating freshly caught shrimp and fish in small restaurants right on the beach. We were lucky to have been to Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival - annual shrimp celebration event. Julia loved the beach, made lots of sandcastles, played in the sea, jumped over the waves. Max didn't want to touch or walk on sand for the first few days and the only way to get him quiet was to put him in the lounger and to give him snacks. After some time he started getting used to the sand and on the last couple of days he joined Julia in the fun. He loved the water and floating on the waves with us, although it was a lot of work for us. The home swapping experience was absolutely surreal - why would anyone want to stay in the hotel room if you can have the whole house to yourself and not have to pay for it.

We made few trips from Sneads Ferry. One being to North Carolina's Outer Banks - what a beautiful place! It reminded us a bit of Florida Keys - narrow islands, beautiful sandy beaches, delicious sea food in family run restaurants. We took a ferry to the first island Cape Hatteras, went to see a very old lighthouse, stopped at a couple of nearly empty beaches. We didn't realise you can drive on the beach there - otherwise we would have rented a 4x4. We were disappointed by the stories of wild ponies roaming the island as all the ponies we could see were behind a fence and didn't seem very wild at all. We then took another ferry and climbed up another lighthouse - this one had an interesting story. As the shoreline was being moved inland by erosion and the lighthouse was under threat of collapsing into the ocean, it was moved by nearly a mile. they built rails, enclosed the lighthouse in some kind of rigid construction and moved it inland. Adam climbed up with Julia - the view from the top was amazing.

On our way back we stopped in New Bern. New Bern is the second oldest town in North Carolina, but the main reason we stopped there was it's a birth place of Pepsi Cola. Being massive fans of Pepsi we spent over $130 on t-shirts, tumblers, pens, pencils, bottle openers, fridge magnets and whatever we fancied in the shop. Talking about kids in the sweets shop :) We also had a wander around main square which is very picturesque.

Marcin and Agnieszka visited us for one weekend all the way from Houston. They were lucky to have made it for Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival. We also went to Wilmington (called Hollywood of the East due to amount of tv series and movies being filmed there), had one of the best burritos at Flaming Amy's and spent some time relaxing on the beach.

We visited Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Some say that Nevada has Las Vegas and South Carolina has Myrtle Beach. Well, South Carolina must have lower standards then :) We didn't like it that much. We still spent time relaxing by the pool, floating on rubber tubes down (or rather round) the lazy river and eating ice cream.

Our time in North Carolina has passed extremely quickly, we had tons of good time and are extremely grateful to Matt and Shirley for inviting us to their home.