Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016 - HOME !!

Home feels good. Sprinter unloaded, washing clothes and cleaning sprinter in progress so I am taking time to finish up the blog.  We had a very pleasant low key trip.  No huge stresses or problems and we arrived back home relaxed having enjoyed being away from the day to day tasks and our external responsibilities! 

Happy we are back to normal life !!  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 Warm Springs GA to Kingsport TN

We were up, ate breakfast and were off on our way by 9:00.  We drove to FD Roosevelt’s “Little White House” where we hurried through the movie, exhibits, and house before too many school groups arrived.

In fact as we were leaving it was quite crowded. It was a very small retreat which Roosevelt built while he was governor of NY.  Security was much different than what we have today – a small sentry house for marines and another for secret service.  The house itself had 3 bedrooms, one bath, a living area, small dining area, and a kitchen.  A very small servant house was separate with two bedrooms and a kitchen/sitting room and half bath.  No way this location could house a presidential party today! 
FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs 

President's Bedroom

Unfinished Portrait that was being painted when FDR died

Artist's completed portrait - original kept and this one completed after his death

Crowd of students arriving as we left

Jane wanted to tour the Rehabilitation Facility nearby that was founded by Roosevelt as a facility to treat and rehabilitate polio patients.  We were there about 10 and took the self-guided tour instead of waiting until 11 for the guided tour.  It was disappointing but did give you an idea of what the hospital was in the 40’s and now.  With the eradication of polio the hospital transitioned to a treatment and rehabilitation facility for stroke and accident patients as well as a vocational training facility.  Today it is no longer a private operation but operated by the state of Georgia.  Most of the employees at the “Little White House” park appeared to have some sort of disability but were functioning well.  A collaboration of some sort we assumed.   

After touring the Rehab area we drove a short way to the original pool area.  The pool has been drained due to leaks in the old pool and the water flows in and out at a small area – did not seem very warm to us.  Here they did have a nice display of how the polio patients were treated – much better than what was in the rehab facility.  Interesting that neither the staff at the “Little White House” or the Rehab facility directed us to visit the pool area.  Not too well coordinated but Jane had done some research on-line ahead of our trip and knew of the various locations. 
Therapy Table in what would have been warm water pool

Iron Lung used to aid polio patients in breathing

So it was 11:15 and we were finished with our touring – so we chose to head on home instead of staying in a hotel north of Atlanta as planned.  We pushed “Home” on the GPS and headed back to I-85 towards Atlanta and on north towards home. 

Uneventful trip home – finished a James Patterson book Ben had on his phone.  Atlanta traffic was terrible but Chattanooga and even Knoxville at 5 PM were not bad at all.  We ordered Chinese food from Plum Tree at exit 35 and picked it up about 6:30 as we arrived in Colonial Heights.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - Pensacola FL to Warm Springs GA

Breakfast at the Main Stay Suites was one of the best we have had in a hotel/motel.  Omlets (premade but very good), bacon, french toast sticks, hot cereals, cold cereals, waffles, all sorts of toppings, rolls, toasts, fruit, - more variety than available most places.  We had a good breakfast and got on the road about 8:30. 

Our first plan for the day was buying seafood to freeze for eating at home.  We had visited Joe Patti’s Seafood on a previous visit to Pensacola and were anxious to return.  There is a little bit of every type seafood and many other things as well – we bought Shrimp, Scallops, Flounder, Grouper, and some Royal Reds.  Royal Reds are not something we had ever had before this trip – they are not really shrimp as Jane had thought but shrimp like – taste a bit like lobster – and are from Argentina.  Jane got a directions on how to steam.  After our visit to Joe Patti’s we headed north.
Joe Patti's

This is only part of the selection

We were headed to FDR State Park in Georgia. We went straight north out of Pensacola to hit I-65 and stayed on it through Montgomery where we took I-85 towards Atlanta.  Fairly boring day with a stop for lunch at a rest area and a stop at the Tuskegee Airman National Historic Site which was right off the interstate.  Rather underwhelming to say the least – a nice parking lot, a few display boards, and an overlook of the airfield where the famous group of black aviators trained for their part in WW2.  No visitor center for getting a stamp.  Perhaps there was one at the Tuskegee Institute but it was several miles further away. 
Sign at Tuskegee

After crossing into Georgia we left the interstate and headed towards Warm Springs and the FDR State Park.  It was a beautiful area with much higher mountains than I had expected.  The park was very nice; we had prepaid and were able to select our site on a first come first served basis.  The campsites surrounded a small lake. Elsewhere there was a swimming pool, numerous hiking trails and many rental cabins. This is the largest state park in the state and was previously called Pine Mountain State Park.  Many of the permanent structures were built by the CCC during the great depression.  We are probably 10 miles from Callaway Gardens.

We set up camp, relaxed a while and cooked dinner here at camp.  I had planned two camping dinners and we ate out all the other nights….lots of great seafood for the most part …our plan for the trip!

Campsite at F D Roosevelt State Park

Other than a few barking dogs at neighboring campsites that calmed down before bedtime, this was a most peaceful campground…of course during the week not many if any children. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday May 9, 2016 Gulf Shores to Pensacola

We enjoyed breakfast at this peaceful campsite.  There were lots of neighbors for  Saturday – Sunday in our end of the campground but the families with children left and those of us left were pretty quiet. With 400 campsites this place runs like a large hotel. We drank our coffee and watched as a few clouds began to blow in…nothing stormy just the only clouds we have seen in our 4 days on the coast. 

We did finally pack up and leave camp about 10 driving the 20+ miles to the National Naval Air Museum in Pensacola.  The road along the Alabama – Florida Gulf is pretty much built up with high rise and other beach properties.  There are a few open beachfront lots but not many.  The white sand beaches go on for miles. 

We arrived a little before 11 and got our bearings to view the new exhibits – Hanger One focuses on the Vietnam era to current day.  There was an excellent display on the role of the Coast Guard. A Marine One Helicopter from the Nixon days, and numerous other planes and exhibits.  After about an hour we headed into the Cubi Point Bar/Cafe to have lunch.  This bar was originally located at Cubi Point on Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines.  When the base reverted to the Philippines the Cubi Point Bar was removed – packed into many boxes and sent to the Museum here in Pensacola to be reconstructed…brought back memories to be sure.  Each command that passed through Subic always had a shield or some sort of display made and hung in the Cubi Point Bar – they decorate the Bar/Café.  Ben spoke with one of the guides about it and he said when they unpacked the boxes all the shields and other materials were covered in volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.  We of course again searched for the OICC Shield – did not take as long as on our last visit as Ben remembered about where it was!

Type plane Ben learned to fly while in the Philippines

Marine One during Nixon Era

Ben deplanes from Marine One

Reconstructed Cubi Point Bar

OICC Shield from when Ben was at Subic

We viewed more exhibits and ended our visit with the IMAX show on D-Day – the Battle of Normandie. As with most IMAX productions this was very well done.  It had lots of action but was also very informative. 

We then headed north to find our Main Stay Extended Stay Hotel – nice place – never stayed in one of these before.  Ben finds interesting “free” hotel rooms with our CHOICE points!  Jane searched for our dinner choice on Trip Advisor.  Our # 1 pick also the #1 seafood restaurant in Pensacola was where we were planning to buy seafood to take home – Joe Patties.  It closed at 6:00 – WHAT!   Our number 2 choice was closed on Monday….so we made a 3rd selection Nick’s Boathouse.  Ben wanted grilled seafood.  It was located in downtown Pensacola on the bay – beautiful location.  The food was just so-so.  Certainly did not rate 4 stars as Trip Advisor indicated.  We had shrimp and grits (Jane) and stuffed grilled shrimp (Ben).  Both were ok but certainly nothing to write a good review about.
Nick's Boathouse

Shrimp and Grits

As we headed back to the hotel we passed two venues with huge lines waiting to enter for musical events – did not recognize the names of any of the performers on the signage - guess we are too old.   Tomorrow we start heading north.



Sunday May 8, 2016 Mother's Day

Up to find another beautiful sunny day.  Cooked breakfast and ate looking out over the reeds and the smooth lake.  The frogs that we thought might keep us up did not as neither of us heard them and we did not even turn on the air conditioner.  When the sun goes down it drops into the 70’s – perfect sleeping weather.
Campsite at Gulf State Park

Very lazy morning, ate breakfast, drank coffee, read a little news on the phone, took a shower and finally about 11:00 we drove up to the central area – camp store, pool, nature center, etc. where the internet is and Jane posted the blog for so far on the trip.  Photos not so much but they can be added in later. 

Lunchtime we found ourselves back at campsite and after eating we headed out to explore the outlets in Foley about 10 miles north of Gulf Shores.  We looked around a bit – bought a few things – some tan slacks and some pajamas for Jane.  A Skil saw, some drill bits and a pair of shorts for Ben.  Tired out we stopped at a grocery to buy water and a couple lunch items…our grocery and meal planning has been on target so far…but we knew we needed water.

Back at camp Jane read and Ben took a nap.  Talked to Jeff, Daniel, and brother Jim.   Searched for the location of a couple restaurants Jane had found on Trip Advisor…we chose Shipps Harbor Grill in Orange Beach.  It was a winner as all the reviews indicated. Located at a huge boat storage area and marina; it was a place you had to look for and was worth the effort to get out of the touristy area.

We had ½ pound of steamed “royal reds” that we had tried at the casino that were not good.  These were excellent and if available we will buy some in Pensacola to enjoy at home.  Then we split a coconut grouper entrée. It was excellent with crab, coconut and a super excellent sauce.  It was served with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans.  Splitting the entrée was perfect as we usually eat too much or take some with us. 
Steamed "Royal Reds" with garlic butter

Coconut Grouper
Only a small part of boat storage nearby

Back at camp we sat in the beautiful pink light of the sunset and enjoyed the peaceful place.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Saturday May 7 , Davis Bayou to Gulf Shores

The campground was quiet and it was peaceful in spite of about 15 children camping nearby!  We had breakfast, sat around drinking coffee and finally broke camp about 9:00. We headed over to the Visitor Center to get a passport stamp. We also found a beautiful red wildflower along the road.

We headed east along the gulf towards the Alabama line.  The ship yards in Pascagoula seemed to be busy.  Jane was surprised when Ben told her this was the last place in US that was outfitted for building large naval vessels.
Ship building at Pascagoula MS

After crossing into Alabama we turned south towards Dauphin Island where we would take a ferry across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. The other option was to get on I-10 through Mobile and then take a road south to Gulf Shores.  We avoid interstates when possible on our vacations and a ferry is usually fun so that was our choice.  

We made it to the ferry to find a rather long line of vehicles waiting - we were in space 25 and the next ferry would take 28!  We made it!  The ferry ran about every 1 ½ hours – we waited about 30 minutes and loaded up.  We had taken this ferry once maybe 5 years ago. Ben remembers we had just gotten out new I phones and he sent some emails only to find out when we got back to better connections they had never been sent.  Today the ferry had really caught up with technology.  Instead of going into a building and paying the fees – an employee came by our vehicle on the ferry to swipe the cards!   Good 4G connection all the way across Mobile Bay.

Driving on the ferry to cross Mobile Bay

Worker processes payments electronically at cars

We headed on east along the gulf which is very built up to Gulf Shores.  This place has many new attractions since we were here last – a huge zipline in the state park and many other additions.  We found our campsite and enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the sunshine with a nice breeze from the lake that is about 20 feet from our Sprinter.  We can see the pavilion and other water structures along the shore and will visit them tomorrow.  We had a great cooked dinner here in camp. This is a huge campground and we will explore it tomorrow as we have been very lazy today!

Friday May 6 SeeBee Museum and along the coast

..Slept until almost 8:00 and were up to cook some breakfast and pack up for our drive into Gulfport to find the SeeBee Museum. The GPS would not take the address Jane had gotten from their website.  Ben finally found one for the Navy Exchange on the base and we started off…the gulf coast is calm and peaceful and seems to be completely rebuilt from the total Katrina destruction.  We drove into Gulfport and took lots of turns to end up at a gate onto the base that would could only allow military people to enter.  We knew there would be forms to fill out, security checks etc. so we followed the perimeter fence several miles to the main gate and the ID building where after about 30 minutes we walked out with the proper credentials for a visit to the museum. 

The major base for the Construction Battalion Command is in California and we knew the main museum was there.  The woman who staffed the gift shop explained that when Katrina hit they took most everything to California leaving very little for them to display here in Gulfport.  They did have some good photos and historical information in their one room museum.  Ben enjoyed reading about some of the projects he had been involved with during his years working for the OICC – Officer In Charge of Construction in the Philippines during the Vietnam War.

After visiting the museum and talking more with the woman in the gift shop we headed back to the coast and stopped along the gulf at a city park for a picnic lunch.  Sunny and beautiful. 

Sunshine along the Gulf 

We then headed east through numerous small towns along the gulf and through Biloxi and into Ocean Springs where we had a reservation at the Davis Bayou Campground of Gulf Coast National Seashore.  We had camped here before and it was much as we remembered it…small about 30 campsites. We set up camp.  Ben had a nap and Jane read.  

When we got hungry we headed about 5 miles inland to the Shed.  The Shed was a highly rated BBQ joint…and it was indeed a joint.  Large very old junky string of “sheds” strung together.  You ordered your food at a bar and chose your seating in an outdoor area with live music, a bayou area which was also outside along a swampy looking area, and an indoor picnic table area where you could hear the music.  We chose the inside area and before long a server found us with our food. Babyback Ribs for Ben and a pulled pork sandwich for Jane.

 Both were excellent and will get 5 star ratings!  We found our way back to camp and enjoyed a quiet evening watching some old TV shows that Ben has stored on his hard drive.  Jane also started some work on the blog – however we are unsure when it is going to get posted. This is a low tech trip – only camera is on the phone and with several campgrounds without wifi – not too sure when posting will occur!

Thursday May 5 - on south to the Gulf of Mexico

After a good night’s sleep and a nice hot breakfast we headed out of Birmingham towards the coast.  We were on the interstate the entire day until about 40 miles north of the coast when GPS took us cross country on a smaller road and we came out about 3 miles from our MS State Park – Buccaneer which is directly on the Gulf of Mexico in Waveland – near Bay St. Louis.  Nothing out of the ordinary about the travel day – sunshine and nothing outstanding about the traffic.  We listened to a mystery and stopped along the way for another picnic lunch.

Buccaneer State Park had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina – in fact this entire part of the state of Mississippi was destroyed along the coast.   We stayed in this park on our return from the Great River Road Trip in 2012, They had rebuilt most of the park then but this time even more had been done with a large wave pool and slide pool built along with several campsites near the beach.  This area did not have bathrooms so we opted to stay in the part a bit further from the beach…a very nice area.  Camping across from us was a very large family group.  Three camping units.  Ben found himself in the men’s room with 6-7 little girls who were playing hide & seek!  When he spoke with the grandfather of the group – he commented he had quite a large family – the grandfather’s response to Ben – “of this is only a part of the family.  I have 8 children and 40 grandchildren!” 
Buccaneer State Park

Ah...the gulf!

The location of Buccaneer State Park is where Andrew Jackson located his headquarters for his battle against the French for the battle of New Orleans.  It seems Jackson also had a home built many years later on this land.  About 2 miles west of the park is the Silver Slipper Casino.  We had eaten their buffet when here in 2012 and we wanted to go back.  They had the Seafood Buffet Thursday through Saturday so that was one part of scheduling our trip….the other was to visit the SeeBee Museum in Gulfport – only open Monday – Friday.  

We got checked in to the campground just ahead of the rush.  We were settled in and as we were leaving for the Silver Slipper about 5:45 there was a long line of campers entering.  We made it through the buffet line just ahead of the rush as well.  The buffet was good but not quite as good as we remembered it.  Jane was looking forward to the Gulf Red Shrimp that had been hyped everywhere on the web. These were not good at all – it was likely they had been cooked several days ago and kept frozen as the consistency was not good.  Crab, lots of types of seafood, prime rib, and about as many things as you could imagine.  All good but not extra special.  We certainly ate more than we needed to and enjoyed looking around the casino – but were not interested in playing.  As we left we read the history of the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas.  Interesting tidbit – when Ben was making our hotel reservations for the nights we were going to stay in hotels – he decided to make one at the Sliver Slipper – thought that might be fun – when the reservation came back he had made it at the Silver Slipper but not in MS but in Las Vegas!!  Needless to say we canceled that!
Heading up to the gambling floor and the food

Silver Slipper in Las Vegas back in the day

Everything worked fine in the Sprinter – it had been months since we had camped so there is always the fear you have forgotten something!   

Wednesday May 4 Heading out on short adventure

Jane had an early morning meeting for planning the centennial celebration of the Red Cross in Northeast TN so we delayed our departure until after that. We pulled out of the driveway at 9:45 and headed off for our short escape to the Gulf Coast.

We made a short stop west of Knoxville for a quick wash of the Sprinter – had to get rid of all the winter grime!  After that and a quick lunch stop we headed on south through Chattanooga and then on to Birmingham and our planned stop in Birmingham. Nice sunny day with a breeze.  No blue bonnets along the road like our trip last year to Texas but there was a very pretty purple phlox like flower blooming along the roadway.

This trip is half camping and half free stays with our bank card points at hotels.  Our stop in Birmingham was to try for Sukyaki at the same location where we found it several years ago.  The restaurant is under new managment but when Ben called them they assured him they had sukiyaki. We found the location but alas no sukayki – we chose tempura instead.  We had a samuri salad – made by the sushi chefs – it was a combination of crab, shrimp, avocado and mango – how could that not be great?  It was super good.  Then the shrimp and vegetable tempura – while not a traditional breading was very good. Great dinner but not exactly what Ben had on his mind. Food photos included for our foodie friends who always ask!  You know who you are!

We stayed at a Drury Inn. New chain for us and very nice.  Nice suite, bathroom, living area and bedroom.

Samuri Salad

Shrimp Tempura

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Test Blog

Trying to post via live writer.  Have to ensure everything is working....