Is your idea of vacation eating crawfish meat pies at the Chevron station? Well, that’s what we were doing a few days into our “Gumbo Trail Retirement Kickoff Road Trip,” as Mr. Groovy dubbed it. It’s a mouthful (pun intended), but ever since Mr. Groovy read about the Gumbo Trail a few years ago in Southern Living he was fascinated with taking a Gulf Coast road trip. Yes, we’re foodies—but food is often just the impetus that kicks our butts into checking out new areas.
Mobile, Alabama (Days One and Two)
First, we headed off to Mobile, Alabama, from our home outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. After a full day of driving we checked into our hotel and then hit Dauphin Street in search of a restaurant. Unbeknownst to us, the Witches Ride was in full motion. Over 500 people dressed as witches rode bicycles down the streets of Mobile. We stopped to watch and a funny thing happened—the witches started throwing objects at us! I said “WTF”! “Why are they hitting us with glass?” Mr. Groovy corrected me. They tossed Jolly Ranchers out to the crowd, not glass. Once he clarified this, I moseyed on out into the street fending off six-year-olds and retrieved my share of watermelon candy!
The festivities dotted the main downtown streets and culminated in a huge outdoor block party with beer and dancing—all for a good cause, the Delta Dogs.
After a couple of beers at the block party we headed over to Wentzell’s Oyster House. We started with the house specialty, chargrilled oysters—smothered with butter and cheese. It’s a Gulf Coast way of doing oysters I had never heard of. I theorize someone invented the dish to help those who gag over raw oysters. But, OMG! We wolfed down those half dozen jumbo gems in the blink of an eye. When we finished our fish tacos and catfish we walked over to the grilling station next to the bar and watched the cook perform her chargrilled magic.
The next morning we headed over to the USS Alabama. The temperature was in the mid-80s and we toured the outside first before the sun got too strong. Then we toured the inside of the ship. The gun turrets, ammo, living quarters, bridges, and medical facilities fascinated me. I almost killed myself climbing up a ladder through a child-sized hole (people were smaller during World War II) and Mr. Groovy banged his head. He looked so cute that night with a little lump on his head.
Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans (Days Three and Four)
The following day we left for Biloxi, Mississippi, an hour away. We arrived at our hotel, the Beau Rivage Casino, and the staff kindly accommodated us with early check in. We dropped off our luggage and explored the lobby and casino. The Beau Rivage is a beautiful facility owned by MGM, reminiscent of the high end Las Vegas Hotels.
Next, we visited Beauvoir, the historic retirement home and presidential library of Jefferson Davis. Davis was the only president of the Confederate States of America. We arrived just in time for a group tour, which I found to be far more interesting than I expected. Beauvoir lives up to its name—it means “beautiful view”.
Built in 1852, Beauvoir is considered a Louisiana raised cottage. The house is elevated with a front porch that wraps around the entire home. Although Beauvoir took a huge beating from Hurricane Katrina, the tedious restoration revealed a few interesting things that might not have been discovered—original paint colors on doors, mantles, and walls.
The library sits in a separate building and contains quite a collection of furniture, paintings, and books. I was most enchanted with the large, colorful parrot that lives in the gift shop—that is, until it bit its owner.
After we ate a barbecue lunch we headed back to the Beau Rivage to relax. The atmosphere was extremely upbeat—everyone was happy! It was a stark contrast to the casinos in Las Vegas, where patrons all look miserable, especially when they’re leaving. Maybe the Haagan Daz shop in the lobby had something to do with the festive mood? We were quite thrilled to eat ice cream for dinner!
As we walked off our ice cream, we passed by a couple we recognized from the Beauvoir tour. We stood in the lobby talking with Tom and Danielle for half an hour. Tom is from China and Danielle hails from Vietnam. They live in Orange County, CA and love to travel. We mentioned our plans to visit Thailand and Vietnam and they regaled us with stories about the Vietnam beaches and the bountiful, inexpensive food. They spent a week in Vietnam for $100 each and highly recommended a tour company for planning excursions. They also suggested booking cheap flights out of Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City.
The next day we drove into New Orleans and toured the Garden District with the Two Chicks Walking Tours. But instead of two chicks—our guide was one guy, Richard. Richard gave a great tour but Mr. Groovy looked forward to those gals in fishnet stockings. Oh well, next time we’ll take the burlesque tour and he’ll get an eyeful.
During the tour we saw historic homes, mansions, and the Lafayette Cemetery #1. Established in 1833, the same year a Yellow Fever outbreak hit the city, the Cemetery contains Spanish-style above ground tombs. Burials are difficult in a city mostly below sea level. When caskets were buried underground after the outbreak, they eventually bobbed back up to the surface.
We passed by homes owned by Anne Rice, Sandra Bullock, and the Archie Manning House pictured below—where his sons Peyton and Eli grew up.
Next we drove to the French Quarter. I’d like to tell you we gorged on beignets at Café Du Monde—but I got the heebie-jeebies. We arrived after 3pm on a weekday and found navigating the small streets by car nearly impossible. Plus, the pedestrians looked like imports from the Bowery in New York during the 1970s. Instead, we drove to Charlie’s Seafood in nearby Harahan, where we had our first gumbo (delish) and took another stab at chargrilled oysters. These babies tasted even better than the ones at Wentzell’s in Mobile. And we had a heaping helping of alligator bites!
Biloxi to Lafayette, LA, by way of Des Allemands (Day Five)
This is the event Mr. Groovy dreamed about—meat pies at the Chevron Station! At 17178 Highway 90 in Des Allemands, this is no ordinary gas station—it’s home to classic meat pies and spicy boudin (pronounced booh-dan) balls. However that day, the cook prepared the boudin more like classic pork sausage. We enjoyed them—but the crawfish meat pies—oh my word! These were to die for. Too bad we didn’t plan to pass through Des Allemands on our way back—we could have indulged in more meat pies, corn dogs, wings, chicken tenders, and shrimp.
But hands-down my favorite part of eating at the Chevron station was getting to meet Miss Michelle. Talk about service with a smile. She lovingly tends to her customers and graciously agreed to pose for a photo. Isn’t she a beauty?
Later that afternoon we checked into our hotel in Lafayette and took a short drive over to the University of Louisiana. Mr. Groovy stopped the first young lady in our path who looked like a student and struck up a conversation. “Oh God,” I thought—you know how Mr. Groovy feels about the college industrial complex. To his credit he didn’t recite his “education sucks” mantra. Instead he asked the student about her studies.
We ate dinner that evening at Prejeans—gumbo for Mr. Groovy, bisque for me, and a shared appetizer of Seafood Skillet Fondeaux, which is very much like a fondue or dip. The dish consisted of shrimp and crab sautéed with spinach, drizzled with crab butter cream, topped with mozzarella, baked, and served with garlic toast. Even Mr. Groovy, who’s on a no-bread kick, ate the garlic toast. It’s a must if you want to sop up every last bit of that creamy, cheesy, heavenly, dish.
Lafayette to Little Rock, Arkansas, with a stop in Breaux Bridge (Days 6 and 7)
We planned a brunch stop at Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge on our way to Little Rock, Arkansas. Breaux Bridge has a charming town center home to several restaurants. Cafe des Amis is rather eclectic—think New York West Village bar with a New Orleans feel. The Cafe features local art on the walls and zydeco musicians perform during the weekend brunch. We feasted on some of the best fried green tomatoes I’ve ever had (that’s high praise coming from an honorary southerner) and alligator quiche. The quiche was was more of a Prejeans-like fondeaux and equally delicious.
Six hours later we arrived in Little Rock, had a nice dinner at the hotel, and then crashed. The following morning we toured the Museum and Visitor’s Center at the Little Rock Central High School. The Center features a display about the historic desegregation of Central High School in 1957 with the arrival of the Little Rock Nine. Afterwards we walked over to the school and grounds.
Later that morning we drove to Hot Springs National Park. Hot Springs is much smaller than most national parks at 5,500 acres, with natural springs right in the center of the town. We toured the Fordyce Bathhouse which immediately brought the TV show I Love Lucy to mind. I looked at the row of steam cabinets and thought of the episode where Lucy tries to shrink her body to fit into a costume for Ricky’s show. Several bathhouses are still open to the public for spa treatments. Although it was established as a national park in 1921, Hot Springs opened in the eighteen hundreds and became famous as a spa where people “took to the waters” seeking relief from afflictions.
We capped off the day back in Little Rock with a stroll along Riverfront Park and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
Next stop: Memphis (Day 8)
The next morning we took off for Memphis. I’m rather ashamed to admit this but we drove straight to Graceland. We thought we’d find it cheesy and hokey and considered passing it up—but when might we be in Memphis again? So we forked over the $42.50 each (and the $10 parking fee) for the basic tour. And I’m so glad we did.
While we waited for the bus to take us over to Graceland, staff handed us ear phones and an iPad. The tour is narrated by John Stamos and self-guided. The iPad senses what room you’re in, provides additional photos and information, and even prompts you to email photos to yourself.
My favorite spot on the tour was the living room where we got a glimpse of Elvis’s grand piano. I also enjoyed the meditation garden where Elvis and his family are buried.
That night we we walked by the National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel as it was closing. We viewed the balcony were Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The museum preserved his motel room along with a few classic cars parked beneath the balcony. Afterwards we walked along Beale Street, which gave me a minor case of heebie- jeebies (compared to New Orleans, anyway). Too crowded, noisy and dirty—not my idea of fun.
Memphis to Chattanooga by way of Nashville (Days Nine and Ten)
We drove several hours to Chattanooga the next morning but stopped in Nashville to lunch with Mr. Groovy’s former boss and her husband. We were right by Vanderbilt University and hoped to see Mr. Groovy’s cousin, a pro baseball player who lives in Nashville during the off season. But he was tied up at Vandy with a baseball clinic. Perhaps we’ll see him in Florida during spring training. We arrived by early evening in Chattanooga and had a light dinner at a nearby pub.
The following morning we drove over to the Chattanooga Choo Choo. From there we hiked down to the Chattanooga Riverwalk and over the Walnut Street Bridge. Afterwards we strolled around the Bluff View Arts District, which is a neat little enclave with outdoor art. It spans a few short blocks near the Hunter Museum of Art and contains several quaint galleries, a few B&Bs, and a bakery known for its chocolate challah bread. Sadly, given Mr. Groovy’s bread restrictions and my proclivity for overindulging in baked goods, we refrained.
Home, Sweet Home (Day Eleven)
We were psyched to go home to Groovy Cat. He was alone for ten days and we felt so sorry for him. We also left him with a new cat sitter, Missy. The first day she visited, Groovy Cat did not come out of hiding. That night was Halloween and I’m sure he was rattled by all the kids ringing our doorbell. The next day he still didn’t show himself. But by the third day, Groovy Cat and Missy were best friends! She texted me this photo, while he sat on the sofa next to her purring. I’m so happy! My baby has a new friend.
So that was our groovy retirement kickoff vacation. Many wouldn’t find our trip earth-shattering. We didn’t do anything spectacular or dine anywhere fancy—we never spent more than $60 for a meal, including a tip. But we saw a whole lot of history, a whole lot of country, and met a whole lot of nice people along the way. And that’s all we need to be happy.
A very special thanks to our blogger friends—Penny at She Picks Up Pennies, Fritz at Retirement Manifesto, Maggie at Northern Expenditure, and Gary at Super Saving Tips. These amazing bloggers covered for us while we were gone and shared some terrific advice, tips, and stories. We loved hosting them and hope you enjoyed their posts.