So…a few months ago a friend of ours suggested we journey down to New Orleans to see him march in the Irish Channel parade on St. Patrick’s day. We are always up for a trip to New Orleans so, of course, we said yes. And then, the next thing we knew, our quick little trip to New Orleans turned into an epic 17 day road trip. Not sure how that happened…. A road trip that took us from Illinois to Kentucky, to North Carolina, to South Carolina, to Georgia, to Florida, to Alabama, to Mississippi, to Louisiana, to Mississippi (again), to Tennessee, to Arkansas, to Missouri, and, finally, back to Illinois. Whew!
We spent our first night in Cadiz, Kentucky visiting with Robert’s brother and sister-in-law. It was a nice visit and they have a beautiful lake house with all kinds of wildlife. I could have sat outside watching the birds (especially the woodpeckers) for hours if only it had been just a tiny bit warmer.
The next day we were off for Hot Springs, North Carolina. I had big, big plans. We were going to hike the Appalachian Trail. OK, fine, we weren’t going to hike the entire trail, but we were going to hike a small stretch of it so we could say we had been on the trail. Now, the trail goes right through town. And we knew where to park. And, yet, we somehow completely missed it. Seriously, we missed it. Once again, we have no idea how that happened… And, ordinarily it wouldn’t have been a huge problem — just turn around and find it, right? Except Robert was grumpy, grumpy, grumpy. So there went my dreams of hiking the Appalachian trail.
Instead, we pushed on to Asheville, North Carolina. Where it was cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we made good use of our time. You know what that means — we ate and drank our way around town. We started by hitting a local bar and asking the bartender with a hipster mustache where he would eat. He sent us to a place called Cucina 24. Amazing Italian food. The next day, we ate ourselves sick at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. Fried chicken, and chicken pot pie, and pudding. Amazing! And, even better, it was Tattoo Tuesday, which means we got a discount after Robert showed off his tattoo. Then, we made our way back to the main part of town where Robert tried a ton of local beers. He was getting pretty worried because, in all honesty, he wasn’t liking anything he tried. Were Asheville beers bad? Was he sick and didn’t know it? Has my love of wine finally tainted his love of beer? He finally found success at a place called Burial Brewery. Shocking right? How can you not like a place with themes of death, good music, dogs galore, and beers called I Know for a Fact You Do Not Party, Consequences of Humanity, Garden of Earthly Delights, Bone Dagger, and Visions of a Valkyrie? And right after that we wandered into a wine bar where a bunch of locals were playing blue grass. And then we stumbled upon a champagne bar. All in all, an excellent day. We would have loved to spend more time in Asheville (when the weather was better and we could have done some hiking) but the road was calling our name.
As we drove out of Asheville, the snow was coming down. We were a bit worried about driving through the mountains in the snow, but it cleared quickly enough. Our first stop was a New York bagel shop. Seriously. In North Carolina. I can’t say the bagels were New York quality, but they were better than anything we expected.
Out next stop was Francis Biedler park. It is a boardwalk (1.75 miles if memory serves) through a cypress swamp. We were there a bit early in the season, so we didn’t see a ton of critters, but we did get to see two very skittish deer, a lizard, a turtle, and a bunch of birds. Plus, we had the place pretty much to ourselves, which made for a very nice walk around the boardwalk. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend it.
Soon enough, we were pulling into our hotel in Charleston. As I asked the bellman a question about where to park, the first thing out of his mouth was “Mam, y’all in a hurry? Because you need to slow down. We don’t move that fast down here.” OK, guess I had been told! But, he was right. Sometimes you do really need to slow down and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we did in Charleston. We started our stay with a long walk to Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Best. BBQ. Ever. Seriously. Wow! It was so good. And the cornbread was like candy. And yet the locals seem to treat it like “meh” for reasons we don’t understand — several people we spoke to admitted as much but couldn’t explain why. We also walked all around the waterfront (and got to see a dolphin!), and all around the old part of town, exploring the old houses and their placards. Robert also tried local oysters — good, but not as good as West Coast oysters.
You know what I found most interesting about Charleston? The houses are old. Like built in the 1700’s and 1800’s old. And they are still standing. I can pretty much guarantee nothing being built in Chicago now will be standing 200 years later. And, they were built for tradesman — carpenters and bricklayers. I can pretty much guarantee tradesman in Chicago can’t afford such nice homes these days.
As we pulled out of Charleston, we had a full day planned, almost all of which turned out to be misses. First, we decided to hit a plantation. Drayton Hall is just a short distance from town, and in the general direction we needed to go, so that is where we went. It was a nice stop, but an expensive visit. In all honesty, we probably should have skipped this stop when we realized just how expensive it would be ($20 per person for a one hour tour).
Our next “miss” was the Wormsloe State Historic Site. We had simply wanted to see the driveway lined with massive oaks. But they wanted $10 per person just to drive down the driveway. And, it was really dusty. And, people were having a picnic right in the middle so we wouldn’t have been able to get good photos. So we left.
Believe it or not, we had another “miss” after that. We had read that the Bonaventure Cemetery was cool. And we love cemeteries. So, off we went. It was pretty, but boring.
We had to salvage the day somehow, so we backtracked to the Savannah Wildlife Refuge. We were there after hours, so we couldn’t visit the visitor center, but we did drive around the refuge. It is about a 4 mile drive with plenty of places to get out and take a walk. We saw a ton of birds and our one and only gator on this trip. But the real star of the show was a bobcat — it was the first time I had ever seen a bobcat in the wild. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a photo of the bobcat, but boy was it cool to see it checking things out.
The next day was a leisurely exploration of Savannah. Now, when we were researching where to go, there was quite a bit of debate about whether Charleston or Savannah was better. After spending a day in Savannah, I think we have our answer. Charleston is better, hands down. Don’t get me wrong. Savannah is pretty and we are glad we saw it. The numerous squares (parks) scattered every couple of blocks around downtown are amazing, as are the beautiful old houses.
But, the food we experienced in Savannah wasn’t nearly as good as the food in Charleston. (Although if you do visit Savannah, take the long walk to Back in the Day bakery, affectionately known by at least some of the locals as “Crack of the Day.” Trust us on this….). And, how to put this politely? Savannah stinks some days. Apparently, the smell is caused by paper mills and marshes. And it is so bad it woke us up one night. Seriously. So…bottom line, it was worth a day, but we wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time there.
Next it was off to my parent’s house in Ft. Myers Beach for a couple of nights. We hit the Seven Mile Cypress Slough on one day. This is another boardwalk through a swamp. Things started out quietly, but we ultimately saw a ton of birds, a bunch of turtles, and — wait for it — three different snakes. Pretty cool (especially since the snakes were not within easy striking distance — or at least that is what I’m telling myself….).
The next day we were off to Ding Darling park. This is one of those things where you drive around and get out and hike here and there. Once again, we saw a ton of birds. But the absolutely highlight was the two dolphins who swam by us, not more than 10 feet away. It was pure luck that we saw them — not sure where they were going but they were definitely on a mission somewhere.
As we pulled out of Ft. Myers, we stopped at the Manatee Park. Florida had been having cold whether, so the manatees congregate by a hot water discharge pipe near a power plant. Neither one of us had ever seen a manatee before and we got to see quite a few at the park. Wish we could have gotten some photos, but no such luck.
After the manatees, we powered through to New Orleans. Talk about a long drive! We arrived exhausted and barely coherent.
After a good night’s sleep, we promptly found boiled crawfish. New Orleans has a big Vietnamese population, and while researching restaurants we came across an article about Vietnamese style crawfish (which as we understand it basically means butter and herbs and lots and lots of garlic). Well, that settled that! Off we went to Gretna for traditional crawfish, Vietnamese style crawfish, shrimp, corn, and potatoes. And, then because one Vietnamese meal a day apparently wasn’t enough, we had more traditional Vietnamese in Mid City later that night. And, then we randomly wandered across a St. Patrick’s day parade in the Quarter. (Remember that debate about whether Charleston or Savannah is better? The real answer to that question is New Orleans. Period. Cool architecture, street cars, good food, and amazing people watching!)
The big day finally rolled around and we headed out to the Irish Channel parade. You know, the whole point of this entire road trip. And the parade turned out to be, ahem, disappointing. It was great to see our friend and his family. But the parade was a bit of a mess. There were no porta potties, so I was afraid to even drink water. We waited for hours for the parade to start. And then, once it did start, it quickly fell apart, with big gaps between the marchers. But we did have a quintessential New Orleans experience on the walk home — we randomly came across a second line in celebration of a wedding. And, there were two brides!
Soon enough, the fun was now over and we faced the long drive home. Where we quickly learned that the state of radio in this country is problematic. You want Christian radio with its insipid music? You can find that everywhere. You want right wing talk radio with announcers who think guns are the solution to every problem and still can’t stop bitching about Hillary and Obama? Yep, you can find that everywhere too. How about “classic” rock that nobody listed to even when it was new? (Remember The Final Countdown by Swedish rock band Europe?) Oh yeah, that is pretty much everywhere too. But there are broad swathes of this country where NPR must be a dirty word and where the only music being played from 2018 is country (oh, and probably western too). But, thankfully, we were soon back in range of our beloved WBEZ and, not too long after that, home sweet home.
Next stop, Thailand in May!