Friday, May 27, 2011

Tupelo, Mississippi -- The Nighttime Ride, Elvis, and Hiking

My next planned stop after Natchez was Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis grew up. I left Natchez in the late afternoon/early evening, so a lot of driving was done in the dark. Little things from the drive stand out. I stopped in Jackson, Mississippi for a small break, drinking my iced tea, and taking pictures of the State Capitol building from afar. I had my tea at Whataburger, a chain I had never frequented before. I drove on the dark Natchez Trace Parkway -- very pretty in the daytime, very dangerous at night, I subsequently heard -- I suppose I was lucky to arrive in Tupelo safely! When I arrived, I was hungry for my final meal of the day, and decided for a rare meal in a chain -- Waffle House -- which I had frequented when I lived in Florida, but which are not seen in my neck of the woods in New York. My lodging was another American Best room, and very nice for the price.

Unlike many other places I saw on this trip, meals were not notable for the food I ate, but, rather, for the venues in which I ate them! Breakfast, for instance, was rather generic, but I thought that Papa V's, the gas station deli at which I ate, was kind of cool! Here are some pictures:

They have their own hot sauce!

The seats give a bit of a restaurant feel...

Naturally, after breakfast, I went for a tour of Elvis' childhood home. Below is just a small sampling of pictures. The first two are samples of quotes that illustrate my perspective on Elvis as down to earth, despite his immense fame:

The picture below documents what I think is an important fact. Elvis is called the King of Rock and Roll, but he is the only artist in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and The Gospel Music Hall of Fame. I have heard that Gospel music was his first true love, and I thought that should be memorialized in pictures I keep for myself:

Here is a link to the site discussing the home:

Elvis also had a well-known love of cars, and Tupelo has an Automobile Museum. I am not the biggest fan of automobiles, but as I always say when traveling, when in Rome...

Since my knowledge of cars is not anything approaching that of an expert -- or even a person with a healthy hobby -- I can only discuss what I found to be the highlights of the museum. I was particularly fascinated that the original cars were so slow in terms of horsepower -- kind of like the Pong video games of their day! Here are some pictures:

I just liked this car below...

The first Delorean I have laid eyes on, other than the Back to the Future movies...:

And the obligatory tribute to Elvis at a Tupelo tourist spot:

Of course, now being in my 48th State, I enjoyed the license plates below from different States:

Here is the link to the site:

I had lunch at Johnny's Drive-In, which Elvis used to frequent. Here are two pictures:

The Elvis theme could have continued indefinitely -- I could have gone to see the school he attended as a child, for instance -- but I am not THAT much of an Elvis fan. I had seen enough for me, and decided to do a little relaxing, contemplative hiking on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Here are a couple of views I enjoyed:

I just liked being able to capture on film a butterfly sitting quietly:

The Elvis fan will not want to miss Tupelo, Mississippi. Nor will the hiker.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Natchez Night and Day

Resuming my review of my Southern Tour...

I arrived in Natchez, Mississippi early evening on Labor Day, September 6, 2010. There were few open establishments, but one of them was easy walking distance from my room (in an American Best, a fine, inexpensive chain). The restaurant was kind enough to stay open a bit late for me, and it is responsible for kicking off my love of Mexican food, which I had not previously known about! The restaurant's name is La Fiesta Grande, and it was the second of two of a small chain in Natchez:

The meal you see was recommended by the waitress, along with some alterations to fit my dietary tastes and needs -- an out of this world steak, yummy vegetables, and a scrumptious guacamole salad, along with tortilla chips. Too much for me to finish!

In the morning, I had breakfast at one of the recommended spots -- The Castle Restaurant at Dunleith -- and received a wonderful surprise -- a free tour of the grounds! It was only supposed to be a 25-minute tour, but my guide took me around for close to two hours, describing each area in detail!

Here are some pictures of my experience:

And here is a link to the house's website:

I followed this experience by having a buggy tour of the city, seeing various historical buildings throughout the city. Little things stick out from this tour, like the dual staircases to entrances, one for the ladies, and one for the men:

I ended my time in Natchez on a more somber note, visiting Forks of the Road, where slaves were sold. I had visited the Nationa Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati in 2009, and learned about the site, and the stop in Natchez provided continuity between trips:

The irony to this site in Natchez -- in my mind, anyway -- comes from something I learned in a brief stop at the Visitor's Center, where I watched a movie about thie city, and learned that several minority groups -- Blacks, Women, Jews -- contributed much to the development of the Natchez culture.

Natchez is full of history and attractive architecture. Again, I had learned about the city in an Allan Sherman song, as I described earlier. From the food to the sites, I am glad I visited.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Katonah, New York and Ridgefield, Connecticut

I divided time yesterday between Katonah, New York and Ridgefield, Connecticut. In Katonah, I sat in the Katonah Restaurant. Though I had decided going in that I was not going to eat out this weekend, and, thus, did not have lunch there, I was nonetheless very pleased with what I saw. The place was PACKED, giving credence to the couple that sat next to me, who praised the food. I chatted some with Mike, part owner, who took the time to answer all questions about the iced tea I ordered, making sure I was satisfied with what I ordered, and taking the time to brew the tea I wanted and put it over ice (caffeine free, calorie free, etc.) on this busy day. He also chatted with me about travels and the like. With such excellent service for iced tea only, I promised Mike my business in the future -- and I will make good on that promise, as I plan to frequent the John Jay Homestead. On the menu for the Katonah Restaurant, I noticed a gyro and eggs platter which would nicely fit my diet -- though I would probably have the home fries on a meal like this, the Katonah Restaurant also offers fresh fruit with egg meals!

Later in the day, I drove into Ridgefield, Connecticut. There is a lot of history in that little town, which I will explore on a later trip. For yesterday, I spent some time in Books on the Common, a quaint little bookstore on Main Street. Here is the link:

They have a nice selection of books, comfortable seats in which to sit and read, and attentive and informative staff.

I finished up my day in Tazza Cafe, one of a small chain of four locations in the area. The Ridgefield location also had a friendly, informative staff that spent time speaking with me and other patrons, and answered all my questions prior to my purchasing my drink. Here is the link:

Healthy wraps and sandwhiches are in abundance on the menu, as you can see. There were also some VERY tempting treats, which, alas, I could not sample due to dietary concerns -- if you do not share my dietary concerns, I would suggest sampling them, though I cannot speak of direct experience in doing so.

Although I did not frequent Deborah Ann's, a candy store on Main Street, yesterday, I have in the past, and can recommend it for desert or gifts. They are expanding, and, according to their web site, posted below, they can mail their candy to you:

The towns of Katonah and Ridgefield provided a nice, relaxing break yesterday. They have other gift shops to peruse, and I definitely plan to explore more of the historical sites of those towns. They have more to offer than simply the food options mentioned here, though those options do provide nice respite from a busy day in the area. In addition to the John Jay Homestead, there is an art museum in Katonah, for instance. These little towns are packed with activities for a getaway from the city, or just a pleasant day anytime.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts About Eating

My father used to say that, other than meeting our basic needs, like that of food and sleep, all other activities served the purpose of filling the time in-between. It's hard for me to say whether that applies as a general rule! I can, however, say that it certainly applied to me, especially when I weighed 265 pounds.

Food was a MAJOR part of my life. Even when going through the traveling experiences I describe here -- which have been, at times, awe-inspiring -- there has often been a great focus on having that great meal. Think of all the restauarants I have reviewed here! I have always been proud to have frequented some of the best food establishments at the places I have visited -- and they have been very good -- that has been an honest appraisal. It is my focus, my obsession on those places, that I am describing as unhealthy, a major contributer to the bloated weight I experienced.

And I've always had to have more and more -- I've recently realized that I am always afraid there won't be enough food, even as I've lost enough weight to know I can live a satisfactory life with a whole lot less than I used to eat.

Activities I performed, such as hiking, were often great, but a bit empty for me -- I was hoping they could last long enough until my next meal, or I thought of how to fill the time in between. Just living the filler time -- just enjoying being alive -- was never enough. Something had to be happening. If not, I was in danger of filling that time in a very dysfunctional matter -- by stuffing my face!

This is a recent insight. It isn't the end of the road. Eventually, I'll want to fill the void I previously filled by stuffing my face, or planning to stuff my face. But the insight feels like an enormous weight has been lifted. I don't need food like I used to. I don't need to eat more and more and more. I am free to do other things. I am sure, to those who read this blog, the observable difference may be minimal -- after all, some of the "other things" may be activities I have already discussed from my travels. But, oh, what an internal difference this insight has made! Superficial solutions to problems, like food, are not only discarded for fear of how they might affect me, they are craved to a less degree! More satisfying solutions can now be considered. As I say above, some of those solutions will be reviewed here, as I believe my travel experiences and activities will encompass some of those solutions.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Baton Rouge -- My "Other" Stop in Louisiana

I drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in the evening on September 5, still reeling from the events surrounding my mother's death. But checking into my motel, and speaking with my friend, helped to calm me considerably. My next search was a stop to eat -- I had my meal at The Chimes, a popular spot near the LSU Campus:

 Here is a link to the restaurant:

I had the crab cake sandwhich, which includes crab, shrimp, and crawfish -- a very pleasant meal!

Breakfast the next day was at La Lou's, formerly known as The Broken Egg -- I prefer the new name myself, as I like all references to the states I have visited! :) I had the absolutely scrumptious brunch nachos:

The link to the restaurant, which I'd highly recommend for Baton Rouge breakfast:

But I hasten to add that my trip to Baton Rouge was hardly about the food I had, good as the two meals were. My time at the LSU Campus was very memorable. I loved sites such as the Memorial Tower:

The Greek Theater:

 And, of course, everyone recommended I visit Mike the Tiger, the mascot of the sports teams -- that is one of the most recommended stops in Baton Rouge:

Signposts pay homage to Mikes of the past:

Mike was sleeping, as tigers normally do -- I read on one of the placards that they actually sleep about 20 hours a day:

I had to have my picture taken in front of the football stadium:

My next stop was the Louisiana State Capitol Building. The building is historic for many reasons, such as the death of governor Huey Long via assassination in 1935. I also liked that the names of the 48 continental states were engraved on the steps, with Alaska and Hawaii engraved near the entrance. But two experiences stood out more. First, the picturesque views from the observation deck:

Of course, such views shouldn't be much of a surprise -- as the Louisiana State Capitol Building is the tallest State Capitol Building in the United States:

And, of course, I was not going to leave Louisiana without seeing a plantation. The Myrtles, in St. Francesville, was my stop. It is said to be haunted, so beware....:

Sorry for the quality of the picture labeling the site as The Myrtles. In the second picture below, I am in front of the Antebellum Home:

Here is the link to the home:

Most people with whom I spoke, asking for suggestions on what to see in Baton Rouge informed me there was not much. I strongly disagree. From the wonderful food that I ate, to the many little things that make the LSU Campus a special place to visit, to the unusual State Capitol building, to the plantation just a short drive away, my time in Baton Rouge was a day well spent -- a much needed vacation day after what had transpired with my mother's death the day before.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Surreal Ending to My Time in New Orleans

I woke up early on Sunday, September 5, determined to have another great, relaxing day in New Orleans, before renting a car and heading to other stops. I rented the car over the phone, and jogged in my carpeted room. I knew fatigue might play a part in my day, but it was off to a quiet, yet effective start. Then I got the call that my mother had died.

My sister and I had known this was a possibility -- my mother had been sick with Alzheimer's for years. She was in pain, with little quality of life. The possibility of mom dying while I was on vacation had been discussed, and it was agreed that I should continue on vacation. The problem was that my sister was also out of town, and was sleeping soundly -- she could not be reached. I got phone call after phone call asking me for details of the arrangements for my mother -- which only my sister had! All this while I was trying to plan a day, check out of my hotel, and drive to a new city!

This may seem insensitive on my part -- after all, my mother had just died. I am not trying to defend or justify my actions in any way, just to describe them. I was very unsettled for the rest of the day, and comforted only marginally by my sister eventually contacting me to let me know that she was taking care of the details, and telling me to continue on my trip, as we had discussed.

I had a decent seafood omelet while eating with a young man with whom I had struck up a conversation on the street, on line outside the popular establishment -- I always trust that a restaurant with a line out the door is going to be good -- that has been my experience:

Before moving on, I want to give a shout out to Winston, the young man who conversed and ate with me during this difficult time, and remind him that I am happy to reciprocate his kindness should our paths cross again. Winston, if you read this, please leave a message, so that we can correspond! :)

But it isn't the food, or the restaurant's popularity that sticks in my mind. It's the name of the restaurant, the significance of which I only realized much, much later...

After breakfast, and among the myriad of phone calls I received, I perused the shops at Riverwalk, close to the levee:

I chose to spend the remainder of my time in the New Orleans area doing something a little different -- a swamp tour. Among other things, I enjoyed watching the tour guide feed the alligators:

Handling the various paraphernalia he handed around, including this baby alligator, was also noteworthy...

After the tour, I had to experience a po' boy before I left town:

I remember most of the day fondly, and by the end, with the help of a good friend I called, I was feeling much calmer. The alligators were amazing, and I would recommend a swamp tour if you are in the New Orleans area. It takes you away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, which may not be your goal, but it is something that really invigorated me -- seeing the life in these reptiles, and the surroundings they lived in -- after a morning filled with sorrow and stress.

Just think -- if I could have such an adventure-filled day when I was dealing with sorrow and stress -- imagine what New Orleans might offer to those who don't have such extra burdens!