Road Trip – Savannah!

We have two full days in Savannah. First things first. Get the lay of the land. Best way to accomplish this is a “hop on-hop off” bus tour. We sign up with Old Savannah Tours. 16 stops and it leaves from the front of our hotel. The tour is informative with actors hopping on occasionally to bring the Old City alive.

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Our only complaint was that it was hard to take pictures. The trolley driver never slowed for photo ops. Even the train on last summer’s “road trip” slowed for pics. It was also hot and not the best light. We will go back early morning or evening for more pictures. On the plus side several of our touring companions were of the canine persuasion. This is Bailey.

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Our “hop on-hop off” pass enabled us to debus at The City Market. Very little in the way of breakfast places were open at 10:30. We found just one place, Pie Society, open. A happy accident indeed.

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They serve tea and savory pasties as well as sweet pies. We both ordered egg and sausage pasties hot out of the oven. Wrapped in a buttery, flaky pastry were two hard boiled eggs and a sausage.

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We split a smaller sausage and apple roll that seemed intriguing. This roll was also nice and flaky with a sausage interior spiced with sage and large pieces of apple. Inexpensive, excellent fare.

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After completing the 90 minute tour and experiencing some of Old Savannah, a city designed around 24 town squares/parks, we climb aboard Moby and head to Tybee Island for lunch and a view of the Atlantic ocean. A short drive through the porous coastline brings us into the island and to the famous lighthouse.

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We explore a little more, through kitschy seaside neighbourhoods reminiscent of the Florida Keys and then head to the ocean beach for a look-see.

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…and then head over to The Crab Shack for lunch.

The Crab Shack on Tybee Island, is a string of “hurricane-chic” huts strung together. Completely homemade. Completely fun.

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When we first arrive we are attracted to The Cat Shack, a home made cat house for the semi-feral cat population. The staff ask that you not feed any wild or domestic animals. Signs assure patrons that the kitties are well fed and spayed and neutered. Meet Oreo and Smokey.

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On the patio overlooking an inlet, the sun is hot, there is a gentle breeze and the beer is cold. Misters and fans keep us cool.

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We order Blue Moons and Yeungling and wait for our massive House Specialty Sampler Platter of local crab, shrimp, mussels, crawfish, sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and Alaskan king crab, done in the Crab Shack’s own spicy boil.

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I do not want Alaskan king crab in an area that has its own fresh seafood, but I must admit it was good. The corn on the other hand was mushy. This is a common complaint of ours at “boils” or BBQ joints. They cook it ahead of time and leave it in a pot of hot water all day. Corn cooks fast so make it fresh or don’t bother. The meal was good, messy fun and perfect with the sunshine, the view and the company. On the whole, the local seafood is delicious and the beer goes down well.

Time for a little siesta back at the hotel before rooftop cocktails, a stroll along the Savannah River front and dinner at Rocks on the River. Rocks, located in our hotel, The Bohemian, is right on the Savannah River where the river is fairly narrow affording amazing views of huge ocean freighters loaded with colourful cargo containers drifting by so close you think you could touch them.

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After a stroll by the shops along the river front and a cocktail at Rocks on the roof, we head down for dinner. Staff is friendly and efficient as it has been throughout our stay. We are seated and order. Chicken and waffle app to share and she-crab bisque for me. The bisque is reputed to be the best in the city. It tastes delicately of crab with a mild alcohol bite. I have to say my shrimp cognac bisque kicks this bisque’s ass. More booze for a larger sting and a good reduced seafood stock are the key for a deeper flavour.

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The chicken and waffles is decent but no where near the gold standard that is Roscoe’s in LA. This is an app and it has been tarted up with boursin and arugula (Snoop Dog dies a little). A sweet strawberry-black pepper coulis adds a nice foil to the fried chicken. All in all a fine app.

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Mains arrive, seared scallops and succotash for me and a hopefully righteous burger for Rob. The scallops are perfect and the succotash is excellent. Lima beans, corn, peas and smoky, salty bacon.

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Rob’s burger was indeed righteous – Great bun, great toppings and most importantly, good beefy flavour.

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Washed down with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, a fine evening indeed.

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Road to Savannah

We wake to another fine, sunny Georgia day ready to hit the road for Savannah. Breakfast will be at the Flying Biscuit in Midtown. The front door of The Biscuit displays a rainbow flag. I have come to see that the pride flag on an establishment represents a friendly, inclusive place. It reminds me of the time when a traveler marked a cat on a nearby fence post to indicate that the home beyond was hospitable.

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And so it is. The hostess greets us like we are already friends, worried about where we parked. She does not want us to get “booted”. We settle into a cheery four top and order coffee and fresh squeezed OJ, and two orders of their Southern Biscuit Benedict.

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The Benny comes out quickly. A very well made biscuit topped with two poached eggs, pimiento cheese sauce, fresh basil, two slices of turkey bacon and a side of grits.

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This is a creative, tasty meal, with one notable exception. Turkey bacon is just wrong. It tastes of fake, chemical smoke. Why use turkey bacon? Most people choose it as a healthy option, but with a biscuit, pimiento cheese, two eggs and grits, yer all in anyways so give me real bacon…or at least the option.

That said, this Benny is very good. The biscuit base is perfect. The eggs are nicely poached so that when you break into that runny yolk it soaks into that delicious biscuit. Pimiento cheese? It’s a Southern thing. Cheddar cheese shreds are mixed with mayo, pimiento and hot sauce. Makes a great dip for crackers or spread it on toasted Wonder bread, slap some iceberg lettuce on it and you have a seriously awesome trailer park sammy. The Flying Biscuit’s pimento cheese has a nice little heat. Altogether it creates a good marriage of flavours. Talking Heads and The Romantics on the soundtrack made this a great breakfast stop.

We climb back into Moby and fire up the tech, Stella and our rootsie Americana soundtrack. We are breaking one of our rules today. We are headed to Savannah via the interstate for several reasons. The other route does not take us through Macon and try as we might, nobody on any forum could tell us of any places of interest to visit off of the interstate and basically it would add an hour to the trip with no benefit. So we decide to just get on into Savannah and start soaking it in. Some rules are meant for breaking. I am however imagining Sherman’s troops making this journey on foot and horseback sans interstate.

As we wend our way towards Savannah, we can’t help but notice how trash-free Georgia freeways are, except for the countless tire treads discarded like so many toe nail clippings. Aside from that fact, the drive is much like the 401 without the magnificent rock faces. We have been warned by previous travelers to watch for speed traps. We are using cruise control but note that the speed limits fluctuate between 55, 65 and 70 miles per hour with little notice. That’s how they get ya. Shortly we enter the dusty, grimy outskirts of Macon an hour into the drive and it’s really just a pit stop for us. We had intended to visit the Allman Brothers museum but it is closed Mondays, and most days.

As we continue on, we pass town after town beckoning to us with  golden arches and Waffle House in block letters stretched to the heavens. I can’t pass a Waffle House without giggling and thinking of Jeff Garlin and Garlin’s infectious giggle. (Not PC).

A lot of the highway we are traveling is being repaired. The surface is concrete. Looks like a lot more work than blacktop. Workers are out there in the hot sun leveling each stretch of about 15 feet by hand. Soon we are nearing Savannah and the scenery changes to more farmland, cotton and a dried corn crop. Hand made signs and towering billboards announcing fresh peaches, peach jam, peach salsa and peach bread call you off the highway. Mmmm…a sun ripened still warm Georgia peach. Yes we will.

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We stopped at a little road side kiosk manned by a teenage boy. He directed us to the peaches that in his opinion were the best. We selected two golden, lightly fuzzy, sweet, juicy, fruits that yielded to the bite without being mushy. Pure sunshine. Messy and perfect.

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We are all checked into The Bohemian in Savannah, rested up and thinking about dinner. Lady and Sons, Paula Deen’s resto is just a short walk up the street. We decide to check it out, ’cause the lady CAN cook y’all. Lady and Sons is in a quaint antique brick building, with a retail store attached to flog her wares.

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This resto in no way resembles the place she opened as a young widow. Now an enterprise, run like an army unit and three stories high, it has an elevator and staff communicating on walkie talkies. I hate it instantly.

The first thing we walk by on the way to the second checkpoint is a small buffet. I am buffet phobic. Just on a germ front alone. I have a full on hate for this place now. We check in with the second station and then head into Paula World to shop while we wait for our table.

We are called about 15 minutes later (on time for our 7 pm res) and seated on the first floor. Apparently my silent prayers not to get on the elevator with the party of 14 were heard. Our waiter brings huge glasses of ice water and lemon. Much appreciated. You sure work up a thirst in the south. I order a peach julep and Rob chooses a hefweizen. While we wait, the bread course comes. A hoe cake, much like a corn pancake, and an angel biscuit with cheese. Angel biscuits are made with yeast instead of soda. It was light, flaky and delicious. I am starting to warm up to the place a bit. No, wait! My cocktail arrives and it is horrible. Bitter. Very bad choice.

Apps are ordered. Paula’s famous pepper shrimp and fried green tomatoes. I am determined to hate this place but…these are both really excellent. The tomatoes are well fried, not greasy. They have a nice spot of pepper jelly on top and are served with diced pickled onion. Really nice.

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The pepper shrimp are swimming in a light sauce with a bit of butter and a ton of lemon and some pepper. Garlic butter toasts are served on the side. This app was surprisingly simple but well prepared and very good.

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Mains arrive next. We both chose the grouper fillet with BBQ peach sauce. A good piece of fish finished with a lightly sweet sauce  that does not overpower the mild fish. The grouper comes with a salad of asparagus and fresh corn, and creamy, cheesy deep fried, light as air, well seasoned grit cakes.

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This is probably blasphemy but we did not even look at the dessert menu. Sorry Paula. I’m sure it was quite excellent as was most of the food we sampled. Time to head into a lovely Savannah sunset and prepare for tomorrow. Think we will do a hop on hop off tour and then head to Tybee Island for some crab.

 

 

 

Atlanta Day 2

We sleep in a bit today. No furry alarm clock. Breakfasting this morning at Ria’s Bluebird, across the street from Atlanta’s famed Oakland Cemetery, where we will be spending a good part of the early day before the heat becomes to oppressive. I think Southerners must pride themselves on their heat tolerance like a Canadian prides themselves on wearing flip flops at least until the first snow. I like the heat but I am melting.

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Bluebird is a short drive from the W. No reservations. The small parking lot is full and there is a significant lineup out front. The wait is 45 minutes we are told, but it’s more like 25. They move people through well but don’t rush you. Soon we are ushered in and brought fresh squeezed lemonade on ice. Icy cold, lemony sweet-tart. Perfect.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 004We have had a minute to peruse the short menu in the hipster meets summer cottage surroundings. I note here that they have several veggie options and they are creative and not second thoughts. Tattooed service is friendly and efficient.  The vibe, noisy and fun. Lots of young families, couples and friends meeting up.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 001Rob and I decide on the brisket breakfast but then he is swayed by today’s special when the server returns and reads it off to him. Eggs Benny with pickled shrimp, melted lardons, fennel, onion and chile peppers on toasted French bread with a side of very good, peppery grits. Very Scandinavian. ‘Cept for the grits.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 004We also choose a short stack to share because the NY Times declares these pancakes to be the best in the world (not fact checked other than for us eatin’ them).

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Breakfast arrives and we tuck in. My brisket breakfast is melt-in-your mouth beef soaking in a dish of beefy, salty, rich sauce with two poached eggs and toasted baguette on the side. The short stack does indeed have world class aspirations. I am not a fan of sweet breakfasts for the most part, but these were delicious….especially when you dipped a forkful in maple syrup and then into the beefy sauce. It reminded me of a dish Alton Brown created on a road trip (big inspiration to us getting going). He went to the kitchen where the old cook was making rib tips for dinner service and he told her he wanted the rib tips on pancakes. She fussed a bit but finally gave him what he wanted. Then his whole crew wanted it. Then it ended up on their menu. Rob makes it from time to time. But I digress.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 005Breakfast was wonderful and the portions were not crazy. Just satisfying. It is hard not to waste food in the south, but Bluebird has it just right. As we head off into the sweltering sun, our server offers us icy lemonade to go. Free refills he says. They go down good.

We hop into the white behemoth hereafter to be referred to as Moby, and head over to Oakland, Atlanta’s historic cemetery founded in 1850 and our entertainment for the day — cruising leisurely through an old graveyard. It is a great place to take pictures, beautiful, serene and tells the story of a place. Some people like city halls and other attractions. We like cemeteries. The architecture, the history, the ghosts. It says so much about an older city. This cemetery is unique because it’s also an open city park that has art shows, concerts, culinary events and other fundraisers. It’s a gathering place in the city, which is a beautiful thing for a cemetery to be.

It is the final resting place of notables such as Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell. Oakland is also home to many ancient oaks and magnolia trees, art and sculpture. When the cemetery was first established, it was designed in the “new” rural garden tradition that was a forerunner of the public park. It still operates today as a park. People in the early 19th century picnicked and communed there. Sunday was a day where families gathered to tend their dead. More acreage was added to accommodate fallen confederate soldiers as the civil war raged through Atlanta. At this time, Jews were buried apart from Christians and African Americans apart from them. The last sites were sold in 1884, but we saw a grave as recent as 2012 in a family plot. The cemetery fell into serious disrepair some time in the 20th century as people moved away and lost touch with their ancestors. In the seventies it was declared a historic landmark and government and public funding has restored a large part of it to it’s former glory. The cemetery has a 10 stage refurbishing plan, dependent on funding. As we walked through today, we could not help but notice that the African American section is in serious decline.

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Oakland 005The sun is now pretty much directly over head and molten. Still we persevere and decide beers are in order and maybe a little BBQ. This is silly because there is no such thing as a little BBQ. In any event, we spied a place on the way over this morning, Daddy D’z.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 006Daddy’s is hard to miss. It is total homemade shack. Gaily painted with African American culture and a hammered together smoker out back it screams “Good BBQ Inside!”

Bluebird&DaddyDz 010We order a couple of beers and some small plates. 4 ribs and two sides. I ask for just one side of mac and cheese as it is seriously almost too hot to eat.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 008I get six ribs and a double order of mac and cheese plus a huge chunk of really good cornbread…sigh I really hate to waste food especially when an animal died to provide it, but I just can’t eat these quantities. Rob orders the small plate as well, with really good collards and yams as sides. It comes piled high and he can’t finish it either.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 012Ooh yeah. The ribs. Excellent, beauty pink smoke ring, perfect bark. Comes with either spicy or sweet sauce. We chose sweet. It was everything you could want in a sweet sauce, thick and tangy.

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Bluebird&DaddyDzB 009Back to the hotel to escape the heat and regroup and maybe a siesta. For our final evening in Atlanta, we choose a Triple D joint, Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in. Food is cheap and homemade. Rob whispered earlier that I could eat in the car! This is one of my dirty secrets. I hate going into fast food places to eat. I love to eat it in my car. Rob hates to eat in the car.

Varsity 001Varsity is not too busy this Sunday evening as we pull into a parking spot. Immediately a young carhop, #47 comes by shouting “What’ll ya have?”

Varsity 004Rob’s having the chili slaw dog and I’m having the hamburger. We both try the homemade, hand dipped onion rings, a fried peach pie and a small frosted orange.

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Food arrives window side quickly. I only order onion rings if they are fresh not frozen. These don’t disappoint. Classic. My burger is a simple house made patty with mustard, ketchup and dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Exactly what I was looking for. The burgers are on the small side, but at $1.89, if you are still hungry you could order a second and be able to finish it.

Varsity 008Rob’s chili slaw dog was terrific. Good dog, good chili and creamy slaw, yet not messy and easy to eat. The frosted orange was amazing. A dreamsicle in a cup. Icy cold. The fried peach pie was not terribly memorable. The peaches we good quality in a sugary syrup, but the crust was quite thin and didn’t hold together very well for eating by hand.

Varsity 009I long for the old days of McDonald’s fried fruit pies. (Editors note: Ignore that last sentence — she’s a loon.)  #47 pops by to pick up trash. Tomorrow we head for Savannah.

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Road Trip 2014: Atlanta

Day one of an epic road trip to Washington DC, begins in Atlanta, Georgia. We have a 9 AM flight to Toronto and then on to Atlanta. Quite civilized. After many teary goodbyes to my furbabies, some kitty disdain and big brown eyes and a licorice nose in a cocked head staring plaintively as we turned the key in the door, we are off. Road trip 2014, The Chicken and Waffles and Civil War Tour, is officially under way.

We arrive in Atlanta on schedule. 90 degrees at 1:00. It takes one hour from touchdown to sitting in a rental. That’s without having to go through customs as we cleared in Toronto. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is massive. I normally would not notice so much but ya do with a bum knee.

NOTE to Avis: A seven seat Explorer is not in the same class as an Escape. This is the second time we have rented an Escape and been switched out for a behemoth. Gas costs will be through the roof. Oh well, c’est la vie. Won’t get caught on that again.

3:00 has us settled into the Hotel W, one of the nicer W’s we have stayed at. A little unpacking and it is time to hit the hotel bar for a cocktail. The W has a little bar on the 16th floor with a nice view of some of the city. Attached to the pool, the bar is noisy with a DJ. We have a cocktail and peruse dinner possibilities. There are endless possibilities in Atlanta.

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Tonight we chose Aunt Pittypat’s Porch based on my love for Gone With The Wind and because Pittypat’s made Thrillist’s list of best fried chicken in Atlanta. We walked the several blocks in a still hot sun, blistering and unforgiving even at 6pm. Opting out of the porch to dine due to the oppressive heat, we head inside. Greeted by friendly staff and live piano music tinkling such classics as This Diamond Ring, we head downstairs. Pittypat’s keeps the Gone with the Wind theme in check. Aside from some themed menu items and a life sized Scarlett, the dining room is all old South charm and grime. A large brick fireplace graces one end, pheasant wallpaper and china racks decorate walls, tables are dark wood, a bit of faux paneling and basement chic round out the room.

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Our server arrives with the bread course, a delicious sweet potato chocolate muffin, a decent wedge of cornbread and a passable biscuit. We order cocktails, a mint julep for me and watermelon punch for Rob. Both are somewhat disappointing, the julep watery and the punch outrageously sweet and in no way resembling watermelon.

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For starters we decide to share Pittypat’s Fried Green Tomatoes. The order is surprisingly sparse, just three well made slices and an excellent, spicy remoulade dip.

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For mains we both order the famous fried chicken. All mains come with their famous sideboard, read salad bar. The bar has cold items only, featuring a rather pathetic green salad selection but offering a really nice Hoppin’ John (rice and black eyed peas, spicy with jalepeno), pickled water melon rind, sweeter than a classic bread and butter pickle, with a nice texture, and one of the best cold macaroni salads I’ve had.

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The chicken arrives.  3 LARGE pieces, hot, steamy, moist, crisp. Perfectly fried and not greasy. Ah the south. They do know how to fry food. An ice cream scoop of mashed spuds covered in the whitest yet very tasty gravy I’ve seen completes the plate and collard greens and black eyed peas come separately. Both sides are excellent. The collards are sweet and sour, and the peas are stewed with a little onion and tomato, naturally a little sweet and lightly smoky.

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Once again we forgot about portion sizes in the United States, particularly the South. I hate to waste food. We have a huge breast, thigh, and leg boxed up. We have no fridge. I offer it to our cab driver and tell him if he doesn’t want it maybe he knows of a person who may. He is happy to take it.

 

 

Road Trip 2014!

We just arrived in Atlanta for the start of our 2014’s annual monster road trip, so I thought I’d talk about the plan.

Great iPod playlists were made, we programmed the GPS and prepped our browser bookmarks with all the places of interest along the way, including plantations, graveyards, the best eats, and battlefields in what we’re nicknaming the “Civil War/Chicken & Waffles Tour 2014”. Out tunes are what you would expect for a romp through the south: rootsy music with a bit of folk, rock, country and bluegrass thrown in. We also have some of our favourite podcasts cued up in case we tire of tunes. We’d be totally lost without modern technology. I can’t imagine planning this with maps, guide books and independent calls to every hotel, restaurant, etc… Yikes! This year, we’ve added roadtrippers.com to our arsenal of planning tools. It’s a superb resource for planning routes and exploring all places of interest along the way, AND it runs on the web, our iPhones and iPads.

This year’s route:

1. Atlanta, GA – 2 nights
2. Savanna, GA – 3 nights
3. Hilton Head, SC – 2 nights
4. Charleston, SC – 2 nights
5. Wilmington, NC – 1 night
6. Norfolk, VA – 1 night
7. Charlottesville, VA – a drive-by so we can stop at Monticello
8. Washington, DC – 3 nights

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As usual, it’s all flexible if we want to change our route because we love a place, or change our mind, or a hurricane sends us inland.

Also, our road trip rules apply:
1. No Interstates – they’re boring and all look the same. The side roads tell the real story.
2. No chain restaurants – Do I really need to explain this?
3. Stop for any picture
4. Stop for any story – We talk to the locals all the time and we love to hear about everything. We’ve met some amazing characters along the way in previous trips

Stay tuned for daily updates!