Alabama

We made the decision to drive through Alabama the day of Saturday, November 1st, after leaving New Orleans. It was just going to be a quick stop. We were stopping through just to get a magnet, find our cache, and grab some lunch.

When we got into Spanish Fort, Alabama we stopped for some gasoline and headed to a Walgreens to look for a magnet. We found a magnet that said “Spanish Fort, AL” but not one that only said ” Alabama” So we decided to keep searching. In the Walgreens parking lot we noticed there was a cache. It was a quick find. We placed our frisbee and were off.

Christina had a couple of items that she had to return to Kohl’s so we headed one that was nearby in the town center. We were pretty hungry since we hadn’t eaten breakfast so lunch was the next thing on our list. We found a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, our favorite, so we had to stop there for lunch. After eating lunch we resumed our search for a magnet. we checked a couple of shops in the plaza we were in with no luck. One person recommended we go up the highway an exit and there was a “Tiger Pride” store that should have some.

We drove up to the next exit and found the store. To our dismay there were not any magnets there that we could use, unless we wanted one that was about a foot long. There was also another small gift store near by that we checked, and again we came out empty handed. The owner did recommend checking  Barnes and Noble, Bass Pro Shops, and the Welcome Center. Barnes and Noble was just next door so we searched there and again, nadda.

We decided to go check Bass Pro Shop and the Welcome Center. The only problem was they were back at the last exit we just came from. So we headed back to the previous exit and headed to Bass Pro Shops. Im sure you can see where this is about to go. There were no Alabama magnets there. I did need to get some fishing line, which came in handy the next day, so the trip to Bass Pro was not a complete loss.

We rushed over to the Welcome Center. They must have magnets there we thought. We arrived at 3:15 sharp, only to find they closed at 3pm. What kind of Welcome Center closes at 3?

We made the decision that this was becoming very much a pain and headed back to Walgreens, where this all started and to get the original magnet that we found.

NEW RULE: When we find a magnet with a state name on it, we buy it. No searching around.

That was our trip to Alabama. Now, on our way to Panama City Beach.

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New Orleans: The Beignet Battle

Michael and I were very much looking forward to visiting New Orleans, Louisiana and since the beginning of the trip I had been bugging him to visit this city! I had heard lots of fun and exciting things about this city, and I was ready to take it on with my side-kick hand-in-hand.

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We booked two nights, 10/30 & 10/31 at Hotel New Orleans Downtown, which was undergoing a $29 million renovation to become Le Meridien. The architects and construction was very much limited to one section so we did not feel bothered at all by this. This hotel was so nicely decorated and had that nice, refreshing hotel scent as soon as you walked into the lobby. Since this hotel only offered valet parking for about $45/night, we opted to park at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino, right across the street for $30/night. This saved us $30 for parking in total for the two nights. We did not want to gamble, but if we signed up for a Total Rewards Card and gambled for 30 minutes, we would have received one free night of parking. We’re not big on gambling anyways, so it was not worth the risk to us.

View from hotel room

One of the main reasons we selected this hotel was the fact that it was right in the French Quarter, but it wasn’t too close to the main “party” area in city. It was just close enough to walk to and from, so we were happy with the location.

The first afternoon we checked in, we decided to walk down the Riverwalk all the way down the Mississippi River to Jackson Square to do a cache and also grab some famous beignets at Cafe du Monde. Along our stroll we saw so many painters, musicians, artists, performers, and homeless people wandering the streets. New Orleans has a very European atmosphere to it, and the buildings have such lovely balconies and architecture. Because it was the day before Halloween, it seemed as though everyone was gearing up for the occasion. It was neat to explore Jackson Square and stumble upon Pirates Alley where we did our cache. We were also instantly able to find a magnet with an over abundance of gift shops in this area, all along Decatur Street. We also got a chance to walk along Bourbon Street to be in the thick of things.

We stayed around the area until the Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade, which started at 6:30pm, securing a standing spot along the street across from the H&M. Crowds gathered in the area so we knew this was going to be a fun one. There were so many different people, groups, dancers, musicians, performers, speakers, trucks, tractors, and floats that went by. Some were throwing out freebies and we got some samples of some New Orleans Chewy Pralines from Aunt Sally’s, some ground coffee from PJ’s, a few different beads, plastic cups, a magnifying glass, assorted candies, and snacks.

For dinner, I was anticipating, craving and hoping there would be some spicy, cajun, and creole crawfish. Unfortunately, we soon realized they were not in season. They are, however, available in the wintertime, through February. I did manage to find some places with some crawfish in a few dishes. We decided to check out Huck Finn’s Cafe on Decatur Street for some southern grub. I ordered the Taste of New Orleans (Crawfish Etouffee, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice) and Michael got the Shrimp BBQ Po-Boy. Our entrees were both delicious and very flavorful!

It was Halloween the next morning, and we kicked off the day with a trip¬†to the fitness center, which was on the fourth floor of the hotel. We had to walk passed the outdoor pool to get to the area. It was a nice gym filled with all sorts of weight and cardio equipment, so we took advantage of everything there, and we sure are still feeling the pain of our workout now. It was about 1pm when we got ready to go out for some brunch, and we actually decided on some sushi because we hadn’t had it since Michael’s parents took us out before we left. It was so yummy and definitely hit the spot.

We made our way to the French Market, which is home to many vendors. There were a decent amount of people shopping around and there was so much going on. I made Michael get me a “faux” diamond ring, since mine was getting rhodium-dipped in preparation for the wedding, and we figured since we were in the French Market, we might as well go with the with the theme:)¬†I also had their version of a snow cone, which was some of the best shaved ice ever!

Because NOLA is known for its beignets, we knew that we could not just limit our tasting to the really popular one in town. So…we made our way to two more cafes famed for these scrumptious donuts. Our first stop was New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee, where there were barely any people=no crowds whatsoever! ¬†We were a bit hesitant, but we were going for it! As soon as the order came out we knew we were in for a treat. These beignets were a lot thinner than the ones we had at Cafe du Monde. They were piping hot, and oh sooo flaky! These really reminded both of us of a pastry sheet. There was just enough powdered sugar on these mamas, and they were so delicious that we were really happy to get to try these. The coffee on the other hand was blah. Price: $3 for 3 beignets

Next on the list was Cafe Beignet. I mean it has Beignet in its name! We were surprised to see this place had the widest assortment of food and beverages compared to the other two, which was so not reflective and indicative in its name. Michael placed the order at the counter, and we had a seat. These beignets were the most expensive at just over $4 for 3. They also definitely seemed to take the longest to prepare. When they came out, the gentleman had three other plates of food for other guests, and he had them stacked right on top of our order…so it left some imprints on the¬†powdered sugar. These resembled the ones we tried at the first place, because they were much thicker than the ones at New Orleans Famous. Michael and I agreed that these were actually way better than the first place as well!

So who took the lead in this challenge? Well, I know Michael was really a big fan of New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee, as was I. But, I was really torn on whether or not I enjoyed the larger ones at Cafe Beignet. Because there is so much hype with Cafe du Monde’s beignets, we were both really surprised these were the most difficult to eat and chew. These were really dense, and more consolidated/doughy compared to the other two. The thinner ones at Famous were really flavorful but overly oily. Yes, we really enjoyed the Famous ones, but I would vote Cafe Beignet as a close second.

After the beignets, we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up for the parade and dinner. That evening, we were really not impressed with the parade. It was much shorter and the participants of this parade did not seem too enthusiastic about it, even though everyone was dressed up.

One huge revelation occurred when we were eating dinner on Halloween evening at New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood Co. was that mayonnaise typically does not need to be refrigerated!!! WHAAAT?? My first thought was “EW!” I saw the squeezable mayo bottle (pictured below) with a strong focus on “NO REFRIGERATION NEEDED”. I was aware that if the bottle was newly opened, it does not need to get refrigerated, but once the seal gets opened, I assumed it was necessary. I guess not. Well that was news to me. Apparently Michael had known this all along, but failed to mention that to me. I wanted to confirm this notion, and sure enough…it’s true! Even after knowing this, I will still most likely keep it in the fridge…it just creeps me out for some reason.

Overall, The Big Easy really had a lot to offer, and the best part of it all were its beignets: I mean how can you go wrong with fried dough sprinkled generously with powdered sugar?

Tennessee: The Smash & Grab

So let me start out this post by stating that we had never anticipated this alternate ending. Oh and just a disclaimer that we do not have nearly as many pictures as our previous states to share, and some towards the end might be a bit disturbing. The following picture sort of sets the mood for what is about to come…

Memphis is the city we chose to explore in Tennessee. We only booked one night here to explore a bit in the evening of 10/28 and also in the morning the next day. We checked into La Quinta Inn & Suites Primacy Parkway pretty early (it was about 1:30pm in the afternoon). We noticed the area was sort of nice because there was a Hyatt Place right next door, and a few shopping centers and other hotels nearby. This was only one of two days that we encountered rain during our trip because we really had lucked out. So, I guess we were feeling a bit tired and just wanted to stay in. We just wanted to take a quick nap before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner.

Because we enjoyed getting real Texas BBQ, we wanted to experience Memphis/Tennessee BBQ, so we went onto Yelp and found “One & Only BBQ“. which was only about ten minutes away from our hotel. It was a tiny place, with a few tables and chairs for dining in, but it was pretty cool because they just had a chalkboard with all of their menu items available to order.¬† We went with the 4 meats (pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and fried chicken), two sides (double baked potato salad and baked beans) and 2 slices of Texas toast. Boy was it all so tasty and extremely flavorful. About 4-5 customers came in and either sat down and ate or picked up food from the place when we were there around 4pm, so we knew it was a great place! The servers were really nice, and we were really satisfied and pleased with our meals that we definitely did not have any room for dessert.

After dinner we went to go look for a cache, and there was one in a nearby business parking lot. We found it with ease, and moved onto checking out some stores. We did not have anything specific we were looking for, but we just wanted to go explore the area a bit, so we parked in a shopping center that just so happened to have a Yogurt Mountain. After walking around, we decided to get some Froyo, and I was so happy they had a KidZone with green apple and orange sorbet, so I definitely had to get those along with my tart original!

We were so tired at the end of the day, so we retired around 8:45pm, and soon realized there was no fridge in our hotel room to put our BBQ leftovers, so Michael went outside to put the food in the cooler in the back of the truck.

The next morning, 10/29 (exactly one month before our wedding day), we had an early start because we had intended to check out downtown Beale Street and get a magnet. Breakfast was plain but good, and we got our stuff packed and ready to go. We had parked towards the back of the hotel and used that entrance, so I helped Michael with our bags and headed towards the front lobby to check us out. When I came back Michael still had our suitcases and bags outside. So I asked him: “Hm, why is our stuff still outside?” This next part of the story may or may not be a shocker to y’all…DUN DUN DUN

Apparently, our truck had been broken into the night prior. They smashed the glass on the driver’s side and rummaged through our belongings taking two suitcases and one duffel bag. Yes, we knew something like this was bound to happen sooner or later, but we figured, since we had only 8 states left to go in leg 4, we were thinking mostly happy thoughts.

I ran to the front lobby to tell them about what had happened, and they called the police for us. At that point, it really hit me what had really happened and I got a bit scared at first when I was telling the hotel staff members. I soon realized it had been done with, and we assessed the damage by recounting what items had been stolen, while we waited for the police to show up. To our surprise, they did not notice our passports in the glove box (even though it was wide open). I guess the bug spray, tea, and other things really deterred them from going through to the bottom to grab those really valuable items. We came to the conclusion these criminals must have been on the lower-end of the bunch because they failed to grab Michael’s $1200 fishing pole and rod along with his $400 Federal Tax textbook that were in sight.

It took about 20 minutes before the cop had showed up, and she was really trying her best to jot down all the details for the police report. We had noticed a few cameras in the back, so she was going to get one of her associates to review the footage down the road (which we later found out, Memphis police has been having a tough time keeping up with all of the bad things happening in the area, so we doubt they will get to it soon).

It took about an hour or so, and the police officer was kind enough to attempt to dust for finger prints, but since it had been raining the night before, it was tough to do. Even if the bandit was stupid enough not to wear gloves, his/her prints would have been washed away by the water. I kept a close eye because I had ever seen this process in action before (other than shows like CSI, etc.), so I was quite curious. The officer informed us that these things (car thefts) pick up and die down and run in cycles. And she even showed me video footage of someone who captured a male smashing a window of a car and literally hopping in through the window (by all means, this was not a very tiny guy either), and grabbing stuff out of the car and returned to the backseat of car with his own driver. It was crazy a hairstylist from the Hyatt Place had seen it clearly, recorded it, and called the cops.

Michael called his insurance company and we settled on a place where could get the driver’s side window fixed. We were happy that he had full glass coverage, so we did not have to front any money at the glass shop. This place took forever! We had left our room around 9:3opm for the car, and it was literally 2pm when we had left the auto glass repair shop. While we were in the waiting room we spoke to a couple there who also had their truck broken into four times in the past and were ready to leave Memphis. The lady at the counter asked us if we had read the news before we had decided to visit. We just wanted to put that out there to oir loyal readers that Memphis locals informed us about its spike in crime.

Oh and I forgot to mention that this was the only state we did not get a chance to purchase a magnet in. We made so many attempts on the way from Memphis to Mississippi, stopping at every gas station and Walgreens we could find, that it was ridiculous. I mostly went into these shops and saw these metal gates and employees behind bullet-proof counters, who did not typically speak a word of English. I enjoyed the challenge in searching for a magnet and communicating with everyone. As soon as I finished asking the store associates if they carried any magnets, most of them looked at me like I had ten heads and gave me a blank stare. I guess they had no idea what I was talking about.¬† One even ended up asking me if I worked next door or down the road at this place called Benny…I said no, but thank you. And he said, “Are you sure? Your people, you know, your people work at Benny”. I laughed so hard when I got back into the car, and asked Michael to go into the next place to ask for a magnet.

All in all, Michael would never return to the state of Tennessee because his truck got vandalized, and he was not pleased with anything Tennessee. Even though I was upset about this incident, I did realize that worse things could have happened to us, so I would likely return in the future, just maybe to explore Nashville vs. Memphis.