Another monster road trip is in the books. Now we move our attention to planning next year’s extravaganza. But first we’d like to take some time to reflect on the places we visited, the people we met, and the food we ate.
Such a rich, cultural history. There really is no place like New Orleans – it wears its influences and its survival instincts on its sleeve. This is our second visit to the city and we still feel like there is so much more to see. This time around we got to visit a wider range of locations, from the soul food shack to the fine dining establishment, and each still conveyed the indomitable spirit and culinary history of the city.
- Coolest experience: having fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It’s such a symbol of hope for post-Katrina recovery.
- Most memorable character: The three-legged, battle-scarred bulldog we met outside a tavern in the French Market area.
Our last trip through Mississippi left a terrible impression: A soulless interstate and stops that were fairly devoid of charm. This time around, the “No interstates” rule worked in Mississippi’s favour and Natchez was a tremendous start. A colourful, picturesque town in the mighty Mississippi river with a very clear sense of its history and cultural roots. In addition to its quaint tradition, its people were very friendly and welcoming.
- Coolest experience: A horse-drawn carriage tour of the historical downtown district with Mike (the guide) and Mack (the horse).
We have to mention the Trace. It was really a feature player in our road trip. It’s a beautiful parkway, peppered by historic sites and things to see along it’s 445 mile length. There were moments where we felt truly connected to its past travelers. For this trip, it connected Natchez, Jackson, Tupelo and Nashville.
- Coolest experience: It’s a tie — The graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers buried along the Old Trace in the woods and the Windsor Mansion Ruins.
Jackson is a hurting city, with sections of the city just outside its downtown core being burned out, boarded up and abandoned. But we so looked forward to reprising our E&L BBQ experience, that it was a “must stop” anyway.
Visiting Elvis’ birthplace was a stop was a sequel to last year’s stop at Graceland in Memphis. People were nice and they were clearly very proud of their native son.
- Coolest experience: sitting in the “Elvis booth” at Johnnie’s Drive-in for dinner.
Nashville was treat for us because, not only is a great and vibrant city, but the company was so darn good! Tennessee was the prettiest state to drive through, based on our last two Southern excursions.
- Coolest experience: Rob got to jam with Trevor Finlay and some great Nashville players.
- Most memorable character: “Papa” Boudreaux, our dinner host at his small Cajun restaurant in the backwoods of Tennessee, pouring sugar in his wine and yelling at the LSU game on the big-screen. But, boy, could he serve a mean etouffee.
St. Louis, MO
We had an all-too-brief time in St. Louis, and would have loved to explore it more. It was clearly a diverse city with tremendous civic pride. We stayed in the West End, a university district that definitely deserved another look.
- Coolest experience: SNOOTS!
Shopping! Photos! Boots! Guitars! Food! River! Tall buildings! We LOVED Chicago. It has its own deeply-rooted food traditions to explore. As well, we got to eat in the flagship restaurant of a chef we admire. It was a welcome change of pace for the previous several days of cornfields and country roads. We got in such shopping – Maureen finally got her cowboy boots and Rob got his guitar, which makes it the most expensive stop on the tour by far.
- Coolest experience: Getting to try the famous Chicago hot dog and real deep-dish pizza.
- Most memorable character: The amazing Chicago-style architecture!
The “Trippy Awards”
Best Meal: It’s a toss-up: Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Kitchen in Santa Fe, TN and Frontera Grille in Chicago, IL
Biggest Surprise: The BBQ sandwiches at Big John’s Smokehouse in Hohenwald, TN.
Nicest Drive: Natchez Trace from Natchez, MS to Jackson, MS.
Gotta-go-back-to: Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, New Orleans
Best supporting role: “Stella 3000″, our Garmin 3790LMT