Saturday, May 18, 2019

Low Country: Alabama > Louisiana, Day 4 Cross Country

Rice fields, Louisiana. We didn't see any bird life until we stopped.
We ambled out about 9:30 am from our cush Mobile room. We knew we wanted to check out a Mobile marina, and figuried making it into Texas that eve was a bit of a stretch.  The marina folks were congenial, and the rates reasonable. Good datapoint for future planning. Other than marinas. there's not much else in the area. The nearest grocery store was about 4 miles away, but the kayak potential directly off the maraina looked good.
Related image
White sands and mansions in the Gulfport and Biloxi Mississippi area. Image liberated from WikiCommons.
We nipped the tip of Alabama and Louisiana, so it didn't take long before we were cruising Mississippi. Much as we could, we skirted the Gulf Coast, taking in its waterfront mansions, seafood and BBQ restaurants. It was cool. but we had miles to burn, so we whizzed past....
Restaurant in the Biloxi Mississippi area.
Somewhere in the Biloxi area was the weirdest food combo I've seen for a restaurant -- street tacos and dim sum Not that I have anything against either, but going to a place that claimed to specialize in both struck me as way too odd. Someone will probably tell me I really missed out by trying nothing more than a snapshot take while driving past.
Lake Arthur, Mississippi, showing signs of a recent overabundance of rain.
We finally stopped at Lake Arthur to stretch our legs and use the facilities. The other towns we passed through were either too big and busy, like Biloxi or blink-and-you'll-miss-'ems.
It wasn't even a town where we saw these guineafowl scuttling across the road.
We don't listen to the radio, or podcasts, or books on tape much if at all on long road trips. Instead we focus on where we are and just see what see. Like these guineafowl....
Bridge over Lake Charles, Mississippi, near the East Texas border.
Once again, we got lucky in our last minute lodging choice. When we're not sure how far we'll drive, we wait until we're two hours or less from calling it a day, then use Google maps to find a decent location and rate. I chose the Quality Inn because it was across the street from Lake Charles and close to downtown. It was a good choice. We had enough time to cross the street and watch the sun set over Lake Charles and the bridge that spans it.
Lake Charles' Ryan Street had good bones. There was some great 18th century architecture
for a couple blocks both sides this placard.
I got up at 6:30, grabbed a cup of tea and headed out to Lake Charles' downtown historic district. It started only two blocks from "our" hotel.
Bank, Lake Charles downtown historic district.
Most of the buildings in Lake Charles downtown historic district were built in the 1800s.
City Hall, Lake Charles, Mississippi.
This handsome City Hall (or was it the courthouse?) seemed like a logical turn-around point. I swung by the promenade next to Lake Charles. The area was taken over by pigeons (or doves, pigeons with better PR). I watched them get fed by locals who looked like it was not their first pigeon-feeding rodeo, then headed back to get ready to hit the road.
One of many pigeons hanging around the Lake Charles shoreline.
Still catching up on posts. Tonight we are in Roswell, New Mexico. It is our sixth day of travel.

Friday, May 17, 2019

From Malled to Mobile: Cross-Country Day 3 "Space Coast" FL to Portland OR

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida's Panhandle.
We witnessed much more of hurricane Michael's devastation of Panama City Florida as we took off on our third day's travel. Major hurricanes, and Michael was a CAT 5 hurricane, provide an interesting study on community commitment. It was a wasteland of roofless gas stations,  empty malls and boarded motels. It looked like a war zone. Perhaps it was; maybe Mother Nature decided the area was due for a radical remodel. 

It seemed certain national chains, such as Waffle House and McDonalds made a major commitment to rebuilding. And a whole lot else, whether national chains or small businesses, over seven months after the hurricane were just non-existent, with no sense of when or if they'd return. 

The contrast between Panama City and neighboring Panama Beach was startling. Panama Beach appeared unscathed, a let-the-good-times-roll party place. It was Spring break mecca Daytona Beach all over again. From Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville to Purple Haze to Alvyn's Tropical Island department stores, to colorful skyrise condos and an abundance of adventure parks... all designed to part tourists from their dollars. 

Destin was more of the same.

In between, we aimed for the remarkably mellow white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. We were amazed and delighted this quiet beauty was visited by such a small smattering of beach-goers.  We stepped out, stretched our legs, and got our feet sandy.

Mobile Alabama riverboat tourist cruiser. The paddlewheel inadequate to power the boat off the backside is not shown.
Our destination for the end of the day was Mobile, Alabama. It's an area where there's plenty of work for Wayne's skill set. If we choose to take our boat on The Great Loop, or even a portion of it, Mobile could provide a good place to part for a while. 

Bienville Square hints at Mobile's French roots. We heard drummers there when we hung out.
These oyster-shaped murals were scattered around downtown Mobile, AL.
Wayne's much more up to speed on Mobile than me. Its affordability, relatively mild winters and rich history and culture intrigued him.
One of many murals on Dauphin Street, Mobile Alabama.
Once again, we scored on our lodgings. Wayne found the Malaga Inn, a small, grand hotel in the heart of downtown Mobile for $79/night plus tax. The hotel was built in 1862, reflected the area's Spanish influence, and sensationally landscaped with classic Southern touches, like the fragrantly blooming gardenias. The rate included a free breakfast with traditional low country favorites like grits, biscuits and gravy as well as the usual eggs and sausage.
Ornate doors to "our" Malaga Inn, Mobile Alabama in the heart of downtown.

Our room was on the top floor of this three-story hotel. Each room opened off of a central courtyard with a fountain, garden, wrought iron tables and gas lights.
Great period decor of Malaga Inn. The bed was comfy as it as stylish.
But first, after passing a gazillion seafood places between Panama City and Mobile, I was determined to indulge in something fishy. While I rarely eat fried food, embracing the delusion that road trip calories don't count the same as eating in your hometown, I went for fried green tomatoes and a salad topped with fried oysters. At least I could claim I was getting my veggies. Yes, they were good!
Fried oysters and green salad, the entree after the less photogenic but equally tasty fried green tomatoes.
Wintzell's Oyster House, Mobile, Alabama.
I justified my piggery with a walk to check out the river and the downtown area, both after we arrived and in the morning.
One of the statues reminding visitors of Mobile's Mardi Gras.
The gentleman at Mobile's visitor center described Mobile's Dauphin Street as "a tame Bourbon Street." We did find a scattering of Mardi Gras beads. We also discovered the downtown area allows (and it seemed, encourages) folks to purchase and walk the streets with a drink. The drink must come from one of the local bars or restaurants and the prescribed walking area is a relatively small one.
This Mobile Alabama building reminded me of a wedding cake.

Here's a close-up of its tilework.
The architecture and art was amazing! Nearly every building on Dauphin Street, Mobile's "tame Bourbon Street" was a stunner. Most were buildings built in the 1800s, with terrific plaster and wrought iron details, well preserved or restored.
Mobile AL's Saenger Theater (in less than ideal light).

Just another cook place on Dauphin Street, Mobile Alabama.
Wrought iron lattice - didn't expect to see so much of this in Mobile Alabama architecture.
The one part that struck us both as odd.... As devastated as Panama City was, it almost seemed there were more folks there than in Mobile's downtown. Maybe we caught it at an odd time, mid-week. There were not many tourists, nor did it feel like a working downtown. We're just not sure where everybody went!
Where were all the people in Mobile Alabama's downtown?
And what is the store behind this one lone rose left on a park bench?
One of many anthropomorphized images in Mobile that made me smile.

This and the raccoon that proceeds this were in the window front of an optometrist.
The majority of trees (more of them than walkers or drivers) were enormous oaks.
Not sure what these were; their trunks and bark captivated me.

There were definitely more squirrels than people wandering downtown Mobile.
This is the first albino squirrel I've ever seen though!

Surely someone tended this downtown Mobile community garden and put books in its Little Free Library. But who?

Today we are in Austin Texas. Yesterday our stopping point was Lake Charles Louisiana. Post on those stops are still to come.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Cross-Country Day 2: Hunkered in Hurricane Michael's Wake

My favorite "historical marker" outside a Lincolnshire home in St. Augustine Florida, USA's oldest city, founded in 1565.
St. Augustine is a quaint town rife with history and proud of its well-preserved architecture. Seems everywhere you go, there's a historical marker.  Some architecture. like the Castillo de San Marcos, dates back to St. Augustine's early days, when Spain held sway and was compelled to build a fort after getting ransacked by English pirates.
St. Augustine's ample historical markers make it easy to brush up on the local history.
 St. Augustine was a great place to get in my morning walkies while Wayne and our hosts were not quite ready to be up, out and about. I did however have to covertly crash a local restaurant and no public restrooms are open in St. Augustine until 8:30 a.m.
This neighborhood cat seemed rat"er unperturbed about the "Beware of dog" sign.
There were several other cats equally undisturbed in the same yard.
1800s Florida developer mogul Henry Flagler made his mark on St. Augustine, where his buildings heralded a renaissance of sorts. Today those building still feature prominently in St. Augustine architecture. 
Flagler College was once one of Henry Flagler's St. Augustine opulent hotels

The Alcazar Pool and Cafe were once part of another Flagler hotel.
 There was a wide variety of picturesque private residences in St. Augustine, accented with lush subtropical growth.
 This was plainer than most  private homes in St. Augustine, but I loved its front garden full of edibles.
Much as we wanted to dwaddle and explore St. Augustine more, we needed to hit the road. 

We stopped periodically to stretch our legs. The Santa Fe River was a nice spot for that. The water was clear, likely due to the 72 springs that fed into it. We wondered in particular about how the name came about for one of them -- Naked Springs. 
One of several pretty spots at our brief rest stop along the Santa Fe River.
Note the cypress knees rising up like stalagmites. I hope to someday
wander a cypress swamp in the mist.
A bit further we crossed the Suwannee River, which we hope to travel by boat someday.
Suwannee River, viewed from the Frank R. Norris Bridge.
We were amused at the name of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Sopchoppy. Wayne theorized it had to do with Chinese food. I disagreed but didn't have a better sense of its origin, which you can learn about here. Upon reading wiki, I do wish we could've hung around to see the town's Worm Grunting Festival. Seriously - they do have one!

Carrabelle, where the intracoastal waterway disappears for a while, provided another pleasant spot to stretch our legs for a few minutes.
This brown pelican at Carrabelle seemed quite happy to pose for the camera.
We drove past Mexico Beach and Panama City to see how it was faring after being struck October 10, 2018 by Michael a CAT4 hurricane. While it's been over six months, time for significan clean-up, the area is still awash in blue-tarped roofs. Tyvek, boarded buildings and chain link fences marking devastated areas off temporarily or forever. 
"I feel like we're walking on someone else's graves." Wayne said. There were few fatalities but seeing what happened
to family homes like these was still unsettling.
This Mexico Beach home, with the picket fence partially erected,  appeared well on its way to returning to inhabitability.
As the day was drawing to a close, we realized given how few hotels and motels remained, and how many temporary workers were there for reconstruction, that we might have trouble finding a room.  What rooms were available in online checking, started at $170 for two star motels. We usually try to spend $100 or less on our rooms. On a longshot, thanks to Wayne's retired Air Force status, we pulled into Tyndall Air Force base to see if there were any rooms available. As we expected, they did not, but we got a hot tip from someone in their office at the time. "Check out Days Inn in Panama City," he suggested. "It doesn't look like much from the outside, but they're alright. Pre-tax; they're $99 a night."

We didn't see much else along the way. Indeed. Days Inn didn't look like much. But they did have a vacancy and after tax the room was still only $110, with a king sized bed, desk, tv, microwave. fridge/freezer and granite countertops in the bathroom. The street and noise from the other rooms left something to be desired, but given the option of horrendous prices, a long drive to find something else or both, we felt quite grateful for Days Inn.
Our Panama City motel, the Days Inn was not easily recognizable  as a place to stay.
The rooms were much better than the motel's outside appearance.

The sun was setting, we were in a new time zone, and ready to call it a day.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Space Coast > America's Oldest City (Day 1: SE > NW Cross-Country)

Wayne, looking at our Prius' bulging interior: "Damn, I guess you did manage to fit it all in."
I did not optimize so expect this mess will get better as we go and "eat down" dowe of its contents. 
We don't eat out a whole lot even when we're on the road; a good portion of what got packed into the car was food. Ever the provisionist, I told Wayne if we got stranded we still probably had more than enough food for a week!
It wasn't pretty. We deliberately slept in and took our time getting up, clearing out our apartment and loading up the car.  When we moved out, we needed to get it done in eight days, in time for Wayne to start a new job on time.  This time, we're giving it about two weeks, with an ETA of June 1st or sooner; we enjoyed feeling we could get a more leisurely start.

The downside.... In the 91 degree heat plus high humidity we sweated like pigs as we loaded up for our trip from "Space Coast" Palm Bay Florida to Portland Oregon. We sweated some more as we dragged off our last bit of furniture, an ugly but comfortable lounger to outside the dumpster where freebies await rescue or their final resting place. A neighbor who told me she wanted it a month ago forgot to tell me she no longer did... I found out when checking in about it the day before moving.
The old fashioned drug store in New Smyrna's Historic Downtown Area.
I've always been a sucker for lighthouses and recently came across an image for an attractive lighthouse in the Ponce Inlet area. Wayne figured we could see it with a slight detour on our path to St. Augustine,where we planned to spend our first night. It also gave us an excuse to pass through the New Smyrna's historic downtown  again, which charmed us when we anchored there, cruising.

Unfortunately, it seems they roll up most of their sidewalks for Sundays, when we arrived. 
The soda fountain inside Little Drug Company in New Smyrna's Historic Downtown Area. Alas it was closed.
We peered, longingly in the windows of The Little Dug Company as Wayne figured that blistering hot day was the perfect time for him to try an old fashion soda for the first time. That please, sadly will have to wait for some other day as it too was closed.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse on a rainy day.
Getting to the lighthouse turned out to be a much bigger detour than we anticipated. That was due more to the simultaneous desire of droves of beachgoers to flee the beach when the previously hot sunny afternoon suddenly delivered a drenching downpour. That 15-minute downpour also coincided with my lighthouse shutterbug time, but I was able to get some photos anyway, thanks to knowing where I stashed my umbrella. My car may be overstuffed, but  I was making good use of what I chose to bring!
Flagler Beach, with its picturesque pier and orange beach sand.
It was all I could do to resist asking Wayne stop several times to take the over-the-top hokey plastic statues that populated Spring-break mecca, Daytona Beach. Instead we took a brief break at Flagler Beach, one of the few places uncluttered by condos and hotels so  we could actually see the water on the coastline-hugging highway. 
Bob's Big Boy statue repurposed for a Flagler Beach Whaam! Burger joint.
Truth be told, it was the Bob's Big Boy statue that beaconed. It was my consolation prize for not stopping in Daytona Beach.
St. Augustine's lighthouse.
Wayne must have been feeling very indulgent, as he offered to stop one more time at yet another lighthouse -- in St.Augustine. This one at least was only a few moment's detour and this time it wasn't raining when we stopped. Usually I climb to the top of these when given the chance, but this time I was too cheap and too pooped.
Bleeding heart window decor at Jule's cosy yet hip AirBnB in stylish Lincolnshire neighborhood, St. Augustine.
Jule Meyer graciously hosted us at her AirBnB in St. Augustine. It was a stone's throw from downtown but we hung out and enjoyed a meal we made together. It was a full day.
Jule's comfortable bed. Much appreciated!
Ahem, though, we only drove about 130 "crow flies" miles out of the at least 3400 we had to make. We plan to rush through some areas and linger longer in others. Our first day, we figured it was ok to not push ourselves too hard, so we didn't.