What next?

Thursday,  October 28, 2013

Back in town, we check our mail. A letter arrives from RacTrac. There was an issue with one of our gas fill-ups at a RacTrac while on the trip. It was possible the hose bumped into the fuel pump and caused the mistake, but the rep went ahead and sent us a gift card with the difference. A check arrived and I have to say that RacTrac knows how to maintain a good rapport with customers!

We’re staying with a relative in the Houston area as we look for a short-term apartment or extended stay lease. (We plan on traveling early next year.) Looked at house sitting sites, but there are more people looking to house sit than looking for sitters. We’ve visited over twenty different properties and find a few that fit our schedule. As we narrow down the list, I glance over at my husband. He looks back. “I don’t want to stop traveling.”

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Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas

Saturday,  October 26, 2013

At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!

At least we get bagels and biscuits with gravy for breakfast! Other friends are getting powdered donuts and milk!

Yesterday was our first day back in seven weeks! We only had time to change out clothes for others and spend the night with relatives. Today, we take care of some business before driving an hour to Galveston. A good friend’s daughter is getting married this evening and we just made it home in time for the event. It’s the weekend before Halloween and hotels are packed. There are ghost tours and all sorts of activities during this time. When my husband made the Priceline online reservation, he wasn’t using the mouse. Somehow, scrolling down, a one star hotel in an adjoining city was confirmed. It’s the first time we have ever hit a one star. Eeek! What are we in for?!? After talking to a friend who also couldn’t get the room they wanted, we don’t feel so bad. They wound up with a one star in Galveston because everything else was booked. 

Perfect day for a wedding

Perfect day for a wedding

 

The wedding is a beautiful affair! It’s held in the circular garden next to the 1859 Ashton Villa, an elegantly restored Victorian home.

Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark

Victorian style and gold filigree touches enhance this Texas Historic Landmark

 

 

 

 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nowadays the villa’s only available for private events.

Day 51: Little Rock

Thursday,  October 24, 2013

Arkansas State Capitol rotunda chandelier is enormous and takes a half hour just to lower it

Arkansas State Capitol rotunda chandelier is enormous and takes a half hour just to lower it

 

 

We go by the state capitol. The rotunda is being renovated and we’re able to get an up-close view of the massive electric chandelier that usually hangs as a focal point in the rotunda. Made around 1914, it weighs over 4000 pounds.

Fists full of dollars

Fists full of dollars

 

 

 

 

We visit the state treasurer’s office to hold $140,000 in bills. We also receive special coins as a memento of our visit.

Memorial to the Little Rock Nine on the grounds of the the Arkansas State Capitol

Memorial to the Little Rock Nine on the grounds of the the Arkansas State Capitol

 

 

 

Outside, we walk around the memorial to the Little Rock Nine. They bravely stepped through the doors of Central High School in 1957. The Arkansas governor had tried to prevent the school integration, but President Eisenhower intervened and the students were admitted. 

Mason sits and wonders why people toil under the hot sun for many hours

Mason sits and wonders why people toil under the hot sun for many hours

That GPS did it again!!! It sent us down a narrow dirt road that deadends. We get the correct directions from a local business and go two miles down to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. A couple we met in West Palm Beach were the ones to tell us to check it out if we go through Arkansas. It doesn’t look like a crater to me, but it is – a long ago volcanic crater. It’s the ONLY diamond producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds and keep their finds. Basically, it’s a big field (37 1/2 acres) divided by a raised dirt path and marked by sections. People are scattered about, carrying their tools – buckets, sieves, shovels, knee pads.

Look at my pretty rock!

Look at my pretty rock!

I use the recommended technique. Walk along and just keep your eyes open. Just two days ago, a teenager from Oklahoma found a 3.85 carat yellow diamond just sitting atop the dirt! She named it “God’s Jewel.” That makes it about 400 diamonds found here this year. (The largest diamond ever discovered the the United States was also unearthed here. It, “The Uncle Sam”, was a whopping 40.23 carats!) Lonnie stays up at the center. He thinks that’s a low yield and not worth his time. I tell him that if God wants me to have a diamond, I’ll find a diamond. Well, God didn’t want me to have a diamond. That’s fine, I have everything I need and even a memento of my diamond search.

We get into Dallas and go through two construction jams on the highways before arriving in Fort Worth. We’ll be staying with relatives tonight before heading home!

Day 50: Memphis

Wednesday,  October 23, 2013

Central BBQ gave us delicious food with a dollop of southern hospitality!

Central BBQ gave us delicious food with a dollop of southern hospitality!

We make it to Memphis, Tennessee in time for lunch. The search for a good barbeque place pops up Central BBQ, 2249 Central Avenue. It’s pork has been voted #1 over and over. It’s the typical barbeque place. We can’t decide on sides. The sweet young woman taking orders at the cash register passes us a basket of handmade potato chips with a small dish of chunky blue cheese dressing and says it’s on the house, try it. If we like it we can order it next time. Now, doesn’t that just ring of true southern hospitality?!? We split a three meat platter and roll out happy!

Mysterious motorcade

Mysterious motorcade

Leaving town, we pass what could be six motorcycle cops and a line of black SUVs waiting at the beginning of the bridge. We cross over the bridge into Arkansas and suddenly see a l-o-n-g line of black jacketed motorcyclists with lights on, cruising toward Memphis. At the end of the procession, an ambulance with lights on flies by. If anyone knows what happened at 2:35p today, please fill me in!

West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center is a great place for a break

West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center is a great place for a break

We stop by the West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center. It has some of the cleanest restrooms and the nicest staff!

West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center staff is efficient and friendly!

West Memphis, Arkansas visitors center staff is efficient and friendly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrive in Little Rock with plenty of time for a good night’s rest. For dinner, we walk through a Chinese grocery store to get to Mr. Chen’s restaurant. How interesting. That gives it character and the security guard for the store makes me feel protected!

The Gai lan, beef with noodles was good.

The Gai lan, beef with noodles was good.

 

Mr. Chen's restaurant's appearance was a pleasant surprise

Mr. Chen’s restaurant’s appearance was a pleasant surprise

 

Fried Soft Shell Crabs must have been fried in old oil. Not a good flavor.

Fried Soft Shell Crabs must have been fried in old oil. Not a good flavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 49: Pigeon Forge, Nashville

Tuesday,  October 22, 2013

We did see a gaggle of geese in a nearby river

We did see a gaggle of geese in a nearby river

The Old Mill area in Pigeon Forge is part of one long stretch of touristy amusements, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels. Reminds us of Las Vegas. Drove by the Dixie Stampede, but did that in Branson. Didn’t feel like going to Dollywood, though my husband did talk about it being one of the amusements to see when we got here. Well, after wandering through shops and eating at one of the restaurants, we’re done.

Bigger-than-life at the Hollywood Wax Museum!

Bigger-than-life at the Hollywood Wax Museum!

We drive a bit into the Smokey Mountains, but decide we’ll check it out another time as we have driven through and hiked up a few national parks on this trip already. We do stop and take a photo of the Hollywood Wax Museum entertaintment center. That, the Castle of Chaos and MagiQuest are s-o-o-o Las Vegas!

America Adventure teams are serious about winning, but have fun too!

America Adventure teams are serious about winning, but have fun too!

 

 

On the way to Nashville, a roadster passes us. It’s one of the teams competing in the annual America Adventure! This year, it’s from Nashville to Savannah, a kind of scavenger hunt-road rally. Sportscars to sedans to rental cars race like mad in the three-day rally.

A nicely renovated  La Quinta

A nicely renovated
La Quinta

 

Praise God! Due to the time change,

we gain an hour and get into Lebanon, just outside Nashville, when it’s daylight! This La Quinta just underwent six months of renovations and is nicely updated. Everything looks clean and fresh. Water and a snack are waiting for us and the bed has added softness with a pillowtop cover.

Bangkok Pad Thai's food is way hotter than it innocently looks!

Bangkok Pad Thai’s food is way hotter than it innocently looks!

 

As with most of our stops, we don’t have a set schedule and often book a room the same day. Well, today is not our day for entertainment. The Grand Ole Opry is standing room only for a special “Pink” performance by country stars Amy Grant, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, LeAnn Rimes, etc. We check out mystery theatres/dinners and none are open during the week. So, we go to Bangkok Pad Thai for a #2 level that blows serious heat and reminds me what a wimp I am!

Day 48: Mount Airy

Monday,  October 21, 2013

Today is Mayberry Monday! We have the complimentary breakfast and chow down on sausage patties, biscuits & eggs, cereal and yogurt. During checkout, I tell the front desk how really pleased we were with the room. It was previously part of another hotel chain, then fully renovated and is now only two weeks old as a Comfort Inn.

Andy & Opie will be forever endearing to many!

Andy & Opie will be forever endearing to many!

Walking around Mont Airy, North Carolina, AKA Mayberry, is a very positive experience. The locals are ALL so sweet to us. A woman out for exercise greets us as she strides by. We need a little help with directions, and walk into a local bank. The lady is happy to help us. She has a charming drawl as she gives directions to our next stop.

A moment with Barney and Andy

A moment with Barney and Andy

Standing in the long line for Snappy Lunch cafe, I see someone getting a haircut in the barber shop next door. Lonnie’s holding our place in line, so I walk on over. A man with an oxygen tank sitting by the door asks me, “Where’s your horse?” At first I’m a little taken aback. Then, “Oh!” I’m wearing my western-style straw hat. I say that I don’t have one but that I AM from Texas. He asks if I can sing “San Antone Rose” (made famous by Bob Wills). I say I can sing “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You” and sing the first stanza, to which I add a rousing, “GO LONGHORNS!!!” People in the barber shop get a kick out of that as I walk over to the barber chair. I ask for permission to take a photo and they agree.

Jokes and laughter abound at Floyd's Barber Shop when visiting 89 year-old barber, Russell Hiatt!

Jokes and laughter abound at Floyd’s Barber Shop when visiting 89 year-old barber, Russell Hiatt!

 

Then, the barber, Russell Hiatt, starts telling me a joke about a cop, a driver, a bottle of alcohol and Jesus’ first miracle. Russell is said to be the inspiration for Floyd, the barber, on The Andy Griffith Show. He even changed the shop name to Floyd’s!

Snappy Lunches, since 1923!

Snappy Lunches, since 1923!

 

A meal at Snappy Lunch is rather uncomplicated. Sandwiches arrive wrapped in paper, the chips in a bag. My thin grilled cheese sandwich tastes like the sliced processed cheese that comes 20 to a pack at the store. Lonnie has the world famous pork chop sandwich: 1 fried pork chop, coleslaw, chili, mustard, onion and tomato and an iced tea. I know Yelpers and all just LOVE this sandwich, but it’s a like for us, though the coleslaw is really good. One thing that can’t be beat, though, is the total price of $7.06!

 

Our tickets to the Andy Griffith Museum also get us into the Siamese Twins exhibit and The Old Time Music Heitage Hall at Earle Theatre.

A highlight is the squad car ride. The “deputy” takes us around town, pointing out areas of interest – Andy’s childhood home, school, church and Wally’s Gas Station, etc. It was an interesting 30 minute tour, and you could tell the deputy loved presenting his dramatic interpretations. Lonnie asked about Andy’s first wife. (We’d speculated about that earlier in the day after visiting Andy’s museum. There wasn’t much mention of her after the early years.)

Breathe in the mouthwatering aromas of Miss Angel's Heavenly Pies!

Breathe in the mouthwatering aromas of Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies!

We step into Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies and take a moment for a big whiff of deliciousness! Here is the rich, full-bodied smell of real baking, not the overly sweet smell of pure sugar. Lonnie has a baked turnover, I have a slice of (I think) cinnamon sour cream cake. Then, for a late night treat when we get to Pigeon Forge, we add a huge piece of luscious, creamy German chocolate cake!

Day 47: Painesville, West Virginia, Mount Airy

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Yes, America IS beautiful!

Yes, America IS beautiful!

It’s our first breakfast in a Waffle House on the trip. Not my fav, but Lonnie wants a cooked-to-order breakfast before hitting the road. Yaay! We’re going to “Mayberry!” Well, Mount Airy, North Carolina – Andy Griffith’s real life hometown. On the way, we stop at the West Virginia visitors center off of I-77. The front desk tells us we missed the New River Gorge Bridge Walk, West Virginia’s largest festival, by a day. It’s the third Saturday in October each year and everyone is invited to walk on top of the New River Gorge Bridge. There are arts & crafts, food, BASE jumpers, rappellers and gorgeous Fall views.  They also offer daily guided tours of the the long catwalk below the bridge that looks straight down 876′ to the New River.  

Visitors center staffer, Bonnie, shares her vision of the perfect West Virginia day!

Visitors center staffer, Bonnie, shares her vision of the perfect West Virginia day!

One of the center staffers, Bonnie, is touching up her autumn chalk drawing. She was an art therapist for 25 years and has been delighting visitors to the center with lovely scenes like this. When it comes time to change the chalkboard, Bonnie takes a photo of her seasonal art before erasing it to create another engaging scene for all to enjoy.

We back up in reverse on this narrow bridge when time runs out

We back up in reverse on this narrow bridge when time runs out

We are persuaded to take a detour to see a couple of area falls.  We get to Highway 19 and agree that the twisting hairpin turns are eating into the time allowed to get to the Gorge before sunset. The large waterfall requires a 3/4 turn onto a wooden bridge and down a steep, narrow dirt trail. This detour is taking too much time,

so we back up in reverse on the country bridge and then head out to the main road.

Kanawha Falls

Kanawha Falls

There is a brief stop at Kanawha Falls before we arrive at New River Gorge lookout as the sun descends.

New River Gorge lookout

New River Gorge lookout

The lookout is said to be a 600′ descent into the Gorge.

New River Gorge

New River Gorge

Obstructed view of the bridge. It IS a nice tree, though!

Obstructed view of the bridge. It IS a nice tree, though!

We're SO glad to see Comfort Inn!

We’re SO glad to see Comfort Inn!

Leaving the gorge so late is a problem as night falls and Lonnie has to negotiate curving mountainous roads in complete darkness, with the occasional headlights of another lonely vehicle. We FINALLY arrive in Mount Airy and the Comfort Inn looks s-o-o-o good! It welcomes us with fluffy pillows and plenty of space to lay our things.