Go ahead and call me a coward.
When we hit the road in late February and headed south, we were definitely fleeing the cold.
As much as I love our state, it embraces winter for far longer than necessary.
After embarking on a 13-day road trip down Florida’s Gulf Coast, with a few more stops, we came home with a few observations about a good old-fashioned family road trip:
So that’s how spring is! While it was bitterly cold in Wisconsin when we left, once we got to Tennessee the dogwood trees were blooming.
Random Wisconsin connection: You always need one. Badger’s state cry from that trip happened at the Great Southern Café in Seaside, Florida. After seeing photos we posted on Facebook from the Gulf Coast, Kevin Ervin commented, “Make sure you go to the Great Southern for breakfast.” My response: “We’re eating there right now.” As co-owner of Franks Diner, Ervin knows breakfast. My Great Southern recommendation? The Fried Green Tomato Benedict or the house specialty, the Grits a Ya Ya.
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Random Wisconsin Connection II: We enjoyed dinner one night in Destin, Florida with Bob and Sharon Acerbi, who live just down the street from the Sunshine State. Apparently, it’s easier to find each other when you’re thousands of miles from home.
Sparkling lights: One of the great pleasures of an American road trip is seeing neon signs – the more kitsch, the better. Glad to see this cool tradition of garish neon signs continue. My favorite of this trip: At Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs at Seaside.
Information, please: Speaking of signs, I appreciate people who put up informative signs – and I always read them at places like national and state parks and a park bench in Tupelo, Mississippi where Elvis Presley once performed. .
Speaking of Tupelo’s native son: If you’re in the King’s hometown, be sure to pose with the Elvis statue, reaching out to his fans, even from beyond.
How is that one more thing? At a hotel near Nashville, Tennessee, we spent the night in a room that reeked of smoke. (I hadn’t encountered this in several years.) In general, smoking everywhere – bars, restaurants, sidewalks – is much more common in the South than it is here.
Roll along: Bicycling is a great way to explore the Gulf Coast region – made easy by the many bike trails and state parks in the area – and my husband, Rex, and I joined the Bike Tour Brigade. Our bike ride was made easier by renting e-bikes, making it easy to tackle the tougher hills.
Really? An entire museum? Summerdale, Alabama is home to the Spear Hunting Museum. It sounds a bit like a niche market. The museum houses the “hunting conquests” (dead animals) of Gene Morris, whom the museum calls “the greatest spear hunter in modern history”.
Philately: We’ve been traveling across the country for nearly two decades, visiting places in our National Park System and adding stamps to our National Park Passports. This trip was not meant to be a big “stamping” expedition, but we managed to ink our passports at the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Natchez Trace Parkway, a National Scenic Trail. That’s why you never leave home without your park passports.
The road less travelled: If you drive the Natchez Trace Parkway – a 444-mile route from Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tennessee – you’ll find a road without billboards or any type of commercial locations. Instead, you travel in a park-like setting dotted with nature trails, lookouts, a few visitor centers, and plenty of historical markers.
“Calories from a road trip don’t count”: I read this once on a billboard in Missouri, and I hope it’s true, especially since you’re not traveling South for the health food. No one likes to diet while on vacation, and in this region they fry all from okra to shrimp to green vegetables. How could I resist?
Rockets? In Alabama? You might look twice when you come across a Saturn rocket at a rest stop in Alabama. Believe me, it’s real. The rocket, which overlooks I-65 a mile south of the Tennessee border, means you’re close to Huntsville, Alabama, and the US Space & Rocket Center. We visited the attraction, which is the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and also houses the space camp and lots of cool artifacts like moon rocks and the Apollo 16 command module. And before you ask, yes they do sell “Astronaut Ice Cream” in the gift shop.
This is what makes this country great: You can buy hot dogs from an Airstream trailer in Florida and freeze-dried ice cream in Alabama – all in less than two weeks – and still get home in time for Spring Forward as we enjoy an extra hour daylight this weekend. No matter what horrible things are happening in the world, it’s wonderful to explore and celebrate the quirky attractions of the United States of America. Now get out of here!
Do you have a question or a comment? Email Liz at [email protected] or call her at 262-656-6271.