Some background before I start the actual adventure. For this year’s vacation we wanted to do a road trip. When I was asked to go to a conference in New Orleans for work, we figured it would be a good chance to combine the conference with our vacation and so the plans for our road trip started there. Since the road trip was massive, in the end over 4200 miles, I am breaking my posts into three sections. This is the first part of the trip, leaving home in New Jersey, traveling South and West to New Orleans, and the several days spent there working and playing. We drove to New Orleans many years ago on a more direct route, and that plus Hurricane Florence arrived the week before this trip dictated a little of the way we would go. Fortunately, the places we really wanted to see on the way to NOLA (as it is known) were not affected by the hurricane and we were able to keep most of our original plans.
If you have read my past adventures you will find out many of the travel tips and apps I use when making plans, finding places to stop, eat, etc. This time we found a new app/program called Roadtrippers which was helpful in many ways. I’ll give you a little background here. Roadtrippers lets you input numerous destinations, computes your route, and lets you find attractions, parks, restaurants, hotels and more along your route. It’s not the easiest program to use, but there are online tutorials. We used the free version, but there is a version that is about $30 a year and let’s you download maps for off line. We probably should have sprang for that, for many times we found we were without wireless and navigation was a challenge. Another trip this long I would definitely go for the paid version. It also took me a while to figure out how to use all the search along the route features on my phone, but it is a really cool way to find the types of things you are interested in.
One of the other ways I find great ideas, I may have mentioned before, our library has two Reader’s Digest Books with great Road Trips and Places of Interest. I check them out each time and they have really helped us find cool spots and get from one to the next.
We set out about noon on a Friday, with the plan just to get miles in the first half day/night. The only stop was for dinner which was BoBoKo Indonesian Cafe in Harrisonville, Virginia. It had a clearly labeled menu for food intolerances and lots of different and interesting choices. I will say now, that on this trip, especially as we got further along I was a little looser then usual when asking about ingredients, I still stayed with dairy and gluten free but didn’t always ask about some less obvious ingredients, especially in places it was hard to find food. We then stayed in Abingdon, Virgina at the Country Inn and Suites by Radison. I discovered they also offer Ebates discounts, but in general on this trip, I would look up hotels on the Travelocity app, through Ebates Hotels and through companies like IGH (Holiday Inn and related) and find getting the best price took some work. Then some times if you called the hotel directly, the price was still better, like the park and stay deal we got in St. Louis. It would be nice if the price was the price, but it’s certainly not that way.
Brunch the next morning was at Tupelo Honey. The location was in Johnson, Tennessee. When I went to look it up on their web site, it seems that location has just closed. There are lots of other locations, including in Ashville our next stop. Their menu had a limited number of breakfast items but they helped us to combine them and make platters we both could eat. It was a good start to the day, so check out their other locations.
The first planned stop of this leg of the trip was Asheville, North Carolina. The biggest attraction in Asheville, is the Biltmore Estate, which is considered the largest home in America. It was one of the homes of the Vanderbilt Family and they still maintain and run the businesses there. The main house tour is self guided and everything I read said the audio tour was well worth it. I choose to get the audio tour and fill Steve in on the points of interest. There are also a number of other specialized tours that you can also choose. The tour of the house takes about 90 minutes, which gives you some idea of the size. There are lots of stories about the family, the people who worked there and how the family benefited the community.
You could spend several more hours exploring the gardens and you’ve never seen anything like the greenhouses which are massive and packed with an endless variety of plants. In the out door gardens there wasn’t a lot in bloom this time of year, but it was still lovely and we happened to be there while there was temporary installation of Chihuly Glass. The glass was both throughout the gardens and the entry of the house, some of which was oddly placed and some that really enhanced the surroundings. The estate also includes a winery, with a free tasting included in the admission price, we of course partook and went home with one bottle of wine that we particularly liked. Beyond that there are other features we didn’t check out like shops, an Inn, restaurants, a petting zoo and more grounds to explore.
We were planning on checking out at “River Arts District” in Asheville as well, but by the time we found our way there the shops were just getting ready to close for the evening. It winds up it’s a series of warehouses with different artisans. We only got to see the lovely pottery, but if we get back to the area would like to explore more. We also weren’t able to find The Hop for Vegan Ice Cream, it winds up there are two locations and the one we found was closed that day. If we didn’t have dinner plans we may have tried for the other but we were meeting a friend near Greenville, South Carolina so we hit the road instead. We joined our friend at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, a local chain , that had very good food and was very helpful with ingredients and figuring out what we could eat. Yummy meal and lots of fun catching up with our friend who used to live in our area. She tried to convince us we should move down South, but besides her positive reasons, she kept mentioning tornadoes that pop up randomly, fire ants, poisonous snakes, neighbors with meth labs / guns they fire in their yards and other factors that outweigh the positives of good jobs and low cost of living – no thanks.
We drove as far as Lavonia, Georgia and stayed at the Hampton Inn there. Then for brunch we had a few issues. We stopped at the local Whole Foods, but they didn’t really have a breakfast selection. We found a place on Yelp, the Egg Harbor Cafe, that again, we didn’t realize at first was a chain with multiple locations. The advantage to the chain restaurants is they tend to put a lot of allergy and nutritional information on line, that helped us make choices. Then we tried to nav and got really messed up, maybe due to the different locations. We finally found the one we wanted in Duluth, Georgia. By that time there was a huge wait and we were hungry and anxious to keep moving. We ordered our food to go and found a spot to picnic near by, though in our car due to the bees. The food was good and fresh and left us ready to adventure on.
Our De Tour destination was Providence Canyon State Park, also known as the Grand Canyon of Georgia. The history of the Canyons here is very interesting. The deep gorges were not totally naturally occurring but caused by poor farming practices, that striped the land of vegetation and that lead to the erosion which caused the deep gorges. The Park Ranger encouraged us to take the trail from the visitor center down into the Canyons where you can go in and out of about 9 of the canyons. Then she said could walk the outer rim overlook if we still wanted. There is also a longer hiking trail that takes you to more of the canyons if you have all day and a lot of stamina. We walked in and out of the first five canyons, numbers 3-5 were the most interesting. Then we mistook the directions to find the next set and wound up on the long trail and finally turned back. We returned to the visitors center, after the slightly tough uphill climb and then drove to a few of the overlook spots. I think if you are not a big hiker I would recommend the trail overlooking the canyons, but it is definitely an interesting place to visit.
After our Canyon adventuring, it was time to do some more driving and then dinner. We stopped in Donthan, Alabama for dinner. The restaurant we found, Taj, was an interesting mix of Indian and Mediterranean, with Steve having grape leaves and baba ganoush and me having a wonderful Indian curry. Our waitress was running like crazy, as they were unexpectedly busy that night but still took the time to help us figure out our order and get everything right. It was a lovely meal and then a little more driving to stay in at another Country Inn and Suites in Crestview , Florida. Three States, one day :).
The next day’s plan was to explore the Gulf Coast, arriving at New Orleans early evening to meet my co-workers for dinner, with the conference starting the next day. As we drove through Florida, Mississippi, and eventually Louisiana we encountered the first of the weather we would have until leaving New Orleans, where it would pour rain and flash lighting for about 20 minutes and then the sky would be bright and sunny again. The hot and humid had started in Georgia but only got worse as we approached and visited New Orleans. Besides the weather there was much beauty and some sadness to see, as there were still many areas with remaining damage from Hurricane Katrina. As I write this the Gulf Coast is bracing for another Hurricane, hopefully this one will not be as devastating.
We had some brunch in Pensacola, Florida at Another Broken Egg Cafe, getting tired of eggs and potatoes, I had an amazing Salmon Power Bowl while Steve went more traditional. Then we headed inland a little until we passed Mobile, Alabama. After that we tried to stick to mostly coastal roads. Ocean Springs, Mississippi was where we first stopped to look for a geocache, that we couldn’t get to, but also to put our feet in the Gulf. It was lovely and warm. There were lots of cool pelicans, cranes and other shore birds.
Next, we stopped in Biloxi, Mississipi to look for another geocache. We were doing so well finding them that day, but it did bring us to an interesting spot. There was a grassy area between the lanes of the shore road, that at 0ne time had a lot more trees. Many of the trees were damaged but not uprooted by Hurricane Katrina and an artist was commissioned to carve the remaining tree parts into various sculptures. There were also an abundance of pelicans in this area.
We checked out a few other spots along the coast and headed into New Orleans. New Orleans was mostly work for me and since we had touristed there before, we didn’t choose to spend extra time. But we did do some dining, walking the French quarter and of course the famous Bourbon Street at night. We found the city smelled bad, not sure if it’s a remnant of the hurricane, the homeless issue or something I just didn’t remember from last time. It still is fun and if you haven’t visited there are interesting shops and markets, swamp tours, plantation tours, Riverboat Rides on the Mississippi, Mari Gras World and of course Cafe DuMonde that you need to do/see. One night for dinner we went to a Sushi place, called Nija Sushi that was really good, it was a little drive from downtown, so if you don’t have a car probably not worth an Uber. It is a pretty easy city for gluten free but tough for vegetarians, they love their shellfish and pork. For us we had good fresh fish.
This is an outline of our entire trip, the De Tours for the remainder will be posted shortly.
See also the next leg of this trip, The Springs of Missouri in the Fall.