And in the blink of an eye, before you know it, two things have occurred – first, we’ve made it to Louisiana and second, on this day last year I arrived here in America to start this hobo RV road trip adventure around the USA.
Boy, time does sure fly.
Because I don’t want to start reminiscing about home right now, I may as well just crack on and update you on our goings on.
When last I left you, it was as I was happily waving goodbye to St Pete (and Florida in general) and looking ahead to entering Georgia and stopping in for some repairs to Belle. I do feel that I should pause for a moment and do justice to the Sunshine State and tell you that if you choose to visit, I would advise sticking with the picturesque northern part of the state. While the south seems to have been mostly overrun with large cities, strip malls and just far too many people and cars for my liking, the northern part is still plentiful enough with horse farms, massive old oak trees and verdant fields. It really is rather stunning.
And don’t forget cranes, it has cranes! Two of which sadly tried their best to commit ‘suicide by RV’ by walking across the road in front of Belle, but disaster was luckily averted by Loops who was very quick, yet careful, on the brakes and the two birds took to the wing just in time. Honestly, even though I know it wouldn’t have been his fault, I’m not sure if I could have entirely forgiven Loops if he had killed them.
Georgia is not a new state to us by any stretch, so I won’t elaborate much on our three day stay there apart from to say that I was a little surprised that the chap we had come to see, who is pretty heavily touted as the Bluebird community, conducts his repair business from the grass field next to his house. I was surprised to see no concrete pad, mechanics pit or even a type of barn for work to be done in. We literally parked on a bit of gravel and a nice elderly, hard of hearing, gentleman came and crawled under our bus on an incredibly uncomfortable looking thin sheet and tinkered away. When he told me he was missing a kneecap from some injury or arthritis (I’m not sure which), it made me feel so guilty it resulted in me feeling compelled to offer him endless cups of tea (which he said no too, which made me feel even worse) and almost offering to help him out with the work.
The upside to our stay was that I got to see about six different buses requiring work that were also parked in his field, and additionally because I was not really required for much (apart from occasionally turning the engine on and cycling through the gears once they changed transmission fluid) I got to work on my crochet and ended up making about 10 more granny squares. My granny square production line now means I have now made ¼ of the squares required for my blanket. At this rate, it should be finished in just another two years!
And despite the fact I had already bought myself my early birthday present (by the way, my camera is the best thing ever, I love it so much and am so glad I finally caved and bought it), my actual birthday fell while we were in Georgia and Loops surprised me with dinner out – to get a curry!
Yes, the hunt for the perfect Indian curry here in America is still on and while the current leader is the Gateway to India restaurant down in St Petersburg, Curry Mantra in Warner Robins, GA comes a fairly close second. Despite being the first Indian place I’ve ever gone to that has not had at least some type of korma on the menu (it did take me a minute or two to get over the shock and horror of this fact), and I had to ask for something that was ‘creamy, sweet-ish and so mild it’s boring to the average person’, the waitress brought me a ‘Curry Mantra Special Chicken Curry’ which pretty much turned out to be a decent korma.
One thing I especially like about eating Indian food here in the US is that it is the only time when food is served to me in the same portion size I would get back home. No obscenely massive dishes, just a really big curry and rice, but something you can eat in one sitting like you could in England.
Anyway, curry, crochet and repairs done and we are back on the road heading southwest to Fort Benning for a short stay at the Army base there.
At this point in time Loops and I start to become rather confused as to where we are and just exactly what time zone we are in. As Fort Benning lies right on the border of Alabama, we seem to have some devices in the bus that have decided we are close enough to the Central Time Zone, that they have taken the early initiative and opted to change themselves, and others who are steadfastly holding on to the Eastern Time Zone for dear life. Having lived in a single time zone my entire life, I find the concept of walking down the road from where we are staying and suddenly either gaining or losing an hour a rather disorientating process. Can you imagine living near this border and maybe having a house in EST and a workplace down the road in CST? I just wouldn’t cope. My brain would implode. And then things get really frazzled when Daylight Savings occurs…
Fort Benning is a surprise and delight. Rather than offering a small and intimate campground setting like most bases we’ve visited, the site here is spread over a huge area, right in the heart of a woodland area. The sites in the section we are in are a generous size, well-spaced from other RV’s and we are given an easy pull-through with full hook-ups. The campground is virtually silent except for the occasional hum of an air conditioner or the birds singing. Oh, and the massive airplanes flying overhead of course.
But even these are not a disruption, more of a type of entertainment. We seem to have parked ourselves right on the path to the landing strip and every so often a plane roars overhead and I rush outside to try and take photos of it. I enjoy it very much.
I decide one morning that I have been lacking in exercise for too long and decide to walk over to the campground office to check out a book swap I saw when we checked in. My offer of a walk to Loops is, as a matter of routine, politely declined; along with a look that tells me he’d rather be forced to eat beans on toast for dinner every night than walk in the outdoors (to be fair he does have horrendous hay fever and the pollen count sucks for him).
But that’s ok by me as I have a rather wonderful walk by myself around the camp during which time I stumble across a hidden footpath through some woods and past a swamp, and have it all to myself, not a single other soul is walking on it. So excited and enchanted am I by the trees, moss and birds I rush back to the bus to load up with my camera and dash back to the woods before the sun goes down so I can take some shots.
The time alone amongst the trees with the crunching pine needles underfoot makes me realise how much I miss walking, how much I took for granted the simple ease and pleasure at home to walk out my front door and have a multitude of footpaths at my disposal, allowing me to roam freely across the countryside. Here in the US, while there are obviously some excellent areas where you can walk, they are not ‘everyday’ accessible in most people’s case (mine included). Whereas we have the right to roam in England, and it’s very hard to swing a cat and not hit some type of public right of way, here in the US walking seems to be confined to public owned areas; basically local, state or national type parks. In a lot of cases you actually have to drive to those locations in order to purposefully go for a walk.
I don’t know. I just miss the ease of having a ramble from my front door. And just to clarify, I’m not saying we make a habit of swinging cats in England, nor do I suggest or condone it.
Two days of sunshine, ambling through woods and some hard blogging later, we head south for Florida.
Yes, all roads lead back to Florida. Or in our case, Florida is where we need to head to pick up Route 90, the road we plan to travel for a while across the south until we reach Texas. We are shunning the motorway in favour of small town America.
And that starts with a swing through the Fort Walton Beach area near Pensacola and a couple days in the car park of the Elks Lodge there. If you look for the lodge on a map, you’ll find that it is perched on a strip of land that is actually part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, yet another National Park Service area, and that the lodge is directly across the road from John Beasley Park which gives you access directly onto the beach. While we don’t have a water view per se, we certainly have a sand view and a two minute walk to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s pretty darn sweet.
So guess where I spent my three days?
Yes, walking on the white, snow-like, sand and taking photos on the beach.
While I expected a calm and postcard perfect snorkelling destination here (I don’t know where I got that image from?), the weather during our stay was incredibly windy, whipping the water into waves and throwing sand in your face. Still, walking on the beach beats being in an office any day of the week, no matter the weather.
Again I found myself taking solo walks, but this time with good reason. On the second evening of our stay a storm came rolling through, chucking buckets down on the bus, and the following morning I discovered that our sofa had a water stain patch – the roof was leaking!
Some small part of the roof, somewhere in the vicinity of the sofa, was letting in a steady drip of water and so it fell to Loops to locate and put a stop to it. While he was hard at work, I took photos of foam bubbles.
No, I wasn’t that mean, I did spend time drying out the sofa, washing the throw and drying the valance. And then I went and took photos of foam bubbles.
I also strolled down the beach to the pier I spied in the distance and was rather miffed to find there was a $2 charge to wander down it. So I just settled for a meander back across the sand, occasionally dipping my toes in the frigid water, until I came across my very own live Baywatch action to entertain me.
It seems that the lifeguard service has chosen the especially choppy weather as the perfect time to put its new recruits through their paces. Two men and two women in their bright red, brand spanking new uniforms, clutching their bright orange lifesaving ‘cans’ (I learned the lingo from overhearing them talk) launched into the water and had to swim a fair length of the beach; while being tossed about in the waves and surf. Not to mention, the water was freezing.
There was one remaining female trainee on the beach whose job it was to run down the beach while keeping an eye on her comrades and hold her can high and straight in the air and blow her whistle to signal where they should come in. However, having heard the instructor give her the instructions, I was now doubting she was going to make the cut. She ran down the beach fine, a perfect Baywatch jog, but when it came time for the signal, I could hear her just barely tooting the whistle, and instead of holding up the can, she had it down by her side and with the other arm was waving frantically in the air trying to signal her teammates. I could visibly see her instructor sighing and shaking his head to the second instructor who had now appeared.
In wasn’t all just fun and games on the beach though, we spent one evening driving over to Pensacola to meet up with Loops’ cousin, Rey. He is studying film and theatre at the college and we decided to head out to dinner together. I find Rey a blast to hang out with. He is an incredibly knowledgeable young man on his subject, which is great for me because he watches many of the same film and TV shows I do and it makes for easy conversation whenever I see him. Rey was also very kind and indulged my nosiness by allowing me to check out his college dorm room on site so I could see and hear about what an American college experience is like. I find it all fascinating and am very excited for him; having never been away to university (all my degree courses where near enough to home that I didn’t have to live on site), I have a wonderful time imaging what it must be like to be his age again and trying to study and live away from home for the first time, and in such a pretty campus too, such an adventure!
Before we know it, it’s time to stow our things and mosey across the border and into Alabama for our first time this year. On moving day we make time for a quick lunch stop at the Navel Live Oaks Preserve (part of the NPS) and amble through the modest forest before stopping to watch a rather inept young Osprey try to build what I imagine is his first nest. He’s making a total mess of the job though; really I don’t think he’s seriously applying himself to the task. Mostly he is picking up twigs in his beak and placing them in a useless fashion on a large tree branch in front of him, as if he somehow expects them to magically adhere to the tree and create a nest. When the stick inevitably topples from the tree limb, he then continuously screams in frustration for about a minute, before starting the whole process over again with a new stick. I’m not usually one for gambling, but I’ll take the bet that I don’t think he’s going to be finding himself a girlfriend to settle down with any time soon.
It only takes a couple of hours driving to put us over the Alabama border and into the town of Robertsdale where I have picked a Camping World for us to overnight at. As we traverse the roads to our destination I have a chance to reconnect with the landscape here and realise that I have forgotten just how pretty the southern part of this state is. For whatever reason it seems to slip my mind that rather than the red dry dust or swamp areas that spring to mind when I think of Alabama (I don’t know where this idea comes from by the way), this whole area is actually covered with thick lush green fields lining the thin two car road. We pass through quaint tiny towns with old brick single storey shop fronts, all centred around a single traffic light and when you do come across larger towns, you are treated to a view of the most exquisite examples of aged plantation type houses; grand two storey antebellum mansions, set off by the rows of magnolia trees lining the streets.
We get lucky pulling into Camping World, finding a spare parking space open for us to pull into for the night, where they not only have an electric point for us, but also a dump station on site too, all of which we are allowed to use for free. We decide to treat ourselves to a meal out given that we have no camping fees to pay (and also because I need to shop as we are low on groceries), so we decide to drive the next town over with the intention of finding a Cracker Barrel.
Now, listen closely because here comes Button’s Top Restaurant Experience Suggestion for Alabama – Lambert’s Café in Foley.
On our way through town, being slowed by a red light, Loops glances over to his left and says “Well, that looks like a local place if ever I saw one”. He’s staring at a huge looming building, part warehouse/part barn in style with giant writing scrawled across it and some pretty impressive graffiti of people throwing dough in the air. On the side of the building it proclaims it to be the ‘Home of the Throwed Roll’.
It takes only a second for Loops to flick on his turn signal and pull us into the already heaving car park. I’m expecting a long wait as there seem to be many people loitering around, but to my amazement we are immediately ushered in to a huge dining area filled to the brim with families, couples and friends, all seemingly having a fabulous chatty time. We are shown to our table and try to decipher the menu, which seems to indicate that you order a meal, but in addition to your chosen meal there is also other free stuff that will be regularly brought to your table as an offering, for you to select or reject like some kind of Mayan god.
We place our orders – I go with a pork chop and some veggies, which I feel is restrained and reasonable – and in the meantime the waitress brings us the world’s largest sweet tea to sip on. I only made it through this one cup during the whole evening, Loops had four of these things. Needless to say, he wasn’t going to be going to sleep anytime soon.
While still getting over my giggles in respects to the huge tea and generally taking in the upbeat ambiance of our surroundings, we hear a cry of “Hot Rolls! Who wants a hot roll?” Into our section of the restaurant ambles a gentleman pushing a cart laden with the largest dinner rolls I have ever clapped eyes upon, and steaming hot they were too, with literal wafting steam emanating from them. If that in itself wasn’t joyous enough (because who doesn’t love hot soft fluffy bread straight from the oven?), the method of delivering these rolls to the diners around the room was to throw them, actually lob them right over the heads of everyone else sitting in between, and into the awaiting hands of the person requesting it. How delightful!
Amongst the bread missiles being catapulted around the room, servers then appear with large metal vats of other southern food offerings: boiled cabbage, black eyed peas, pasta and tomatoes, fried okra and fried potatoes (of which I had three helpings because they were just too good to not eat, to be honest I could have forgone everything else on my plate and just eaten those all night).
And remember, we still hadn’t even been served our ordered meal yet!
Which when it arrived looked a bit like this…
Yes, that’s my dinner, served in a frying pan. And no, there was no way I was going to manage to eat all of that, it served Loops for two more further meals back at the bus.
Overall, the food was great, the atmosphere even better and rather than just a meal, this was a dining ‘experience’. So if you are in Foley, Alabama, stop on in. Oh, and I should actually tell you that we discovered this isn’t a single restaurant but that the first Lambert’s Café was opened in Missouri and there are now two locations in that state. But it is a family owned chain of only three restaurants, so I’m still going to class that as a local enough feel for me.
And here our tale ends for today. I guess you’ll just have to wait until next time for our passage through Mississippi and into Louisiana – both brand new states for me!
Remember, if you want to see any of these locations in sight and sound as well as words, I am now posting up regular videos on our YouTube page if you’d like to visit and tell me what you think, or offer any suggestions of places to stop by. The link is at the top of the homepage under the tab ‘Videos’.
Until next time…