Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our deep south trip: Feb. 11-23

   We took another one of our famous JAVO trips - 13 days; 6 states, 1935 miles...what a trip! Here's the scoop:
Day 1: Thursday, Feb. 11th Basically the whole day was spent on airplanes from San Jose to Dallas and on to Atlanta. When we got in we stopped for dinner at a Waffle House. I remember those being like a LOT better last time we went. I think time has made me a better cook and so now I really can not get behind cheap and less than mediocre food. The boys however were thrilled with chocolate chip waffles with their hash browns and eggs. Van liked it so much that he pointed out EVERY Waffle House for the rest of our trip, of which there were very very many.
It was sort of entertaining and reminded us of when he was little and would inform us of every noise he ever heard. After dinner we continued on and slept in a 2 bedroom suite hotel room in Montgomery- by far the nicest hotel that we stayed in during our trip.
Day 2: Friday, Feb. 12th We had a super packed day in Montgomery. We saw the capitol building, which had lots of soft colors like pinks and lavendars for the walls and a myriad of statues. I really enjoyed it and the kids liked spiral staircases.
We went to the Rosa Parks library and Museum, which was fascinating. First they teach you all about recent history about what was happening when Martin Luther King and Rosa parks were around and you see artifacts and actual letters, etc., then you go to the next part of the museum where you get on a bus and watch out the windows as they show actual footage of slavery through time with a narrator and it is all done as though it's going on right outside the bus windows. It is very well done and really informative. For lunch we headed to a very southern grocery store/ cafeteria style lunch stop called Filet and Vine. It had lots of good southern veggies*. I put an asterisk because I'm not sure they eat a single veggie in the south that isn't smothered in butter, doused in sugar or floating in vinegar. Did you know that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable in the south? No, seriously, it was on the Cracker Barrel menu under the vegetable section! What???
Anyway, next was the Civil Rights Memorial Center that was complete with a super cool fountain that had the names of several people who really made a difference in the Civil rights movement. Many of them were killed for their efforts, but they all made a significant impact. After we had put our names on the digital board to say that we would do our best to end racism, we headed over to the home of Martin Luther King Jr. This was the home that lived in during the time that the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. There is even a mark on the patio from a failed bombing of the King house.
We walked over to the church where he preached as well. It was a very heavy day. It also made us realize how far our country still has to go in terms of ending racism. A long long long way. I don't feel it in San Jose very often, but in the south you could cut the racial tension with a knife. We were also surprised by how close everything was - King's house, the church, the spot where Rosa was arrested. It was all easy walking distance apart.
It was time for our first southern BBQ experience. We went to dreamland BBQ for the Alabama BBQ. It was clearly finger lickin' good. Vander absolutely loved all the BBQ he got to eat on our trip. He was a huge fan of all the ribs especially. Oliven and I were big fans of the pulled pork. The BBQ here was a bit on the vinegary side for Justin's liking.
Day 3: Saturday, February 12th We started our day with a 4 hour drive to Jackson, Mississippi. By the time we got there we are all pretty hungry for lunch, so we decided to go to The Pig & Pint. For some reason the gps took us to the wrong area - wrong side of town, but now it was time to pee big time for the kids, so we had to scramble around looking for a place that we open. We finally found a place - a library. So, we stopped in for a quick minute. It really was the best library we saw on our trip. We passed it a few times and Vander pointed out, "hey look it's the library we like."
Back into the car with the updated address we found the BBQ place we were looking for. Justy and Van got the sampler plate with ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. We had some boudin balls and pulled pork nachos. It was of course delicious. Ollie and I chose this BBQ as our favorite. It would have been nice to try them all side by side, but one at a time was pretty good. We really didn't have any bad BBQ - the fried chicken was another matter, but we will come back to that later.
We drove over to the capital building, but since it was the weekend, we just had to look at it from the outside. Don't worry we had prepped Oliven ahead of time. (He LOVES going to Capitol buildings and has gotten really upset and our of sorts in the past when he thinks the Capitol building should be open and it's not). The Capitol museum, however, was open so we went over and spent some time learning more about Mississippi. I really wanted to stop in to this place I found online called, Deep South Pops. They specialized in gelato, but also homemade popsicles and coffees. They recommended dipping the popsicles in soda. Interesting...so we stopped in for some "Pops", which the boys loved because they call Larry Pops. Eating a popsicle and thinking about their grandpa made for a very fun afternoon treat. We went back to the hotel for dinner. It was complimentary, so we took them up on it.
Day 4: Sunday Feb. 14th We got up bright and early to head to Memphis. It was a 3 hour drive, but
we had places to be...there is a hotel called the Peabody hotel and at exactly 11am every morning the days come down the elevator and walk down a red carpet and into the fountain in the middle of the hotel. Intrigued? We were, so we had front row seats. The duck master gave us a speech and told us about the history of the ducks - it all started with some drunk guys who put ducks in the fountain and all the hotel guests loved them, so it because a tradition. This has been going on at this hotel daily since 1940. It was super cool. We all really enjoyed the whole experience. Since we had little kids we got to sit in the front row. :)
We were right by the Mighty, muddy Mississippi, so we headed down the road a bit to see it. Vander wrote about the Mississippi river earlier this year in his second grade class when they were learning about land forms, so he was thrilled. He really wanted to touch it, so we let him stick his finger in the chilly water. We debated what were were going to do the rest of the day. Graceland (Elvis' home) was pretty expensive, so Justin was going to take the kids somewhere else, but since the kids were free I convinced him to come with me to Graceland. First we stopped into Central BBQ for some lunch. Justy and Van shared a rack of ribs. This was Justin, Vander, and Oliven's favorite BBQ place. So, now we know, Tennessee BBQ is the top favorite of JAVO (it's a sweeter sauce). We all headed over to see where the King of rock and roll spent his days. From one King house to another. Come on, you know I had to put at least one corny joke in here somewhere.
Graceland was awesome!!! Every room was so unique. The adults had to share a headset with the kids, so that was a bit difficult being attached by a cord. It was an interactive digital tour with fun videos to watch and it was narrated by John Stamos - a huge Elvis fan. There was one room that was all yellow and black and had 3 tv's so he could watch three news channels at the same time. Each room had it's own theme...there was a jungle room and a room with ruffled material around the whole room with a pool table. It was very unique and intriguing.
We got to listen to lots of Elvis music on the tour which was awesome. Best of all, we ALL loved Graceland. Justin was glad they came with me, and so were the kids. They liked the tour too. Afterwards we bought a magnet and a shake and granola bars. We headed out to make our way to Nashville with a stop at Cracker Barrel for some dinner. Oliven decided he didn't like the vegetables they offered so he didn't have dinner that night. I really like the ambiance in Cracker Barrel. The food is always very home style, but it really isn't great, but it is for sure a nice atmosphere with the fireplaces roaring and the little country store. It was a nice end to the day.
Day 5: February 15th A day in Nashville - We started out going to the Country Music Hall of Fame museum. The boys enjoyed doing a scavenger hunt looking for hats, boots, and accessories. There were lots of things to do that were interactive, music to listen to, things to learn, and we even got to record a song, then sound edit it. It was pretty fun. The kids liked the Taylor Swift kid area. We spent a long time listening to music and learning about the history of country music. It was a vibe of pride and love of music. The boys won the scavenger hunt and got c.d.s as a prize, which is always exciting. When we were done seeing everything country music had to offer at the hall of fame we were pretty hungry. Robert's Western World beckoned. It was super cool. It was live music while we ate lunch. The first country singer on asked for requests, so I got to here two of my favorite country songs - one of which was Kenny Roger's "Know when to hold 'em". The bar food was actually pretty tasty and the music was delightful. The boys enjoyed it, but said the biggest problem was that the music was so loud we couldn't talk. I told them that is my problem with every bar or dance club that I have ever been to. It was raining pretty hard as we left, but Ollie still wanted to see the capitol building. For some reason this one was closed every Monday, but we walked around it as best we could. The hotel had a free shuttle so we requested a ride around bicentennial park. It was really hard to see out of the shuttle windows, but we tried our best and then headed back to the hotel. We were all pretty wiped so we went back to the hotel to dry out and get ready to go see the Sundar family for dinner. Chris was in Justin's grad school program and Kara and I spent a lot of time together in KPA. We went over and had some fried chicken for dinner and visited with them and their daughter, Elizabeth. It was a nice evening of catching up.


Day 6: Tuesday, February 16th Justin really wanted to go to the Centennial park and see the Parthenon, and luckily the rain had stopped. While avoiding puddles we walked through the park and enjoyed the fresh air with the Nashville background. This is definitely a city I would like to come see again. The Parthenon is an exact replica of the Parthenon in Greece, only it's pretty new. It was built for the 100th anniversary of Tennessee. It was breathtaking. The boys were astonished that there were naked people on the building. Ummm...you can see there privates! At the end of our visit we stopped in at the gift shop. As Ollie was walking past a shelf, the whole thing came tumbling down. It was a shelf of shot glasses with lots of shattered glass on the floor. He was really upset. Hysterical crying ensued. We still bought the 1 1/2 foot pencils the boys really wanted as souvenirs and they didn't make us pay for anything - we did offer.
Time to head on to the next city - Ashville, North Carolina. We planned to go to the Biltmore Estate (we went in 2005 with Colby) and it was pretty interesting and huge. The problem was that it's really expensive and we would be getting there about an hour before they closed, which would not be nearly enough time to see the estate, so we decided to go to the blue ridge parkway instead. It's supposed to be an awesome scenic drive, except we drove into the Eastern time zone, so we lost an hour of sunlight and it was a four and a half hour drive, so new plan. We decided to see what they was to see in the small town of Asheville and go to a place called Chestnut for dinner. We arrived at about 4:30 and they informed us that they had a limited menu until 5, so we ventured out. It was pretty wet, but they mentioned there was a chocolate lounge
and shop just up the street a block, so we went to check it out and decided that it would be an ideal dessert spot. We went back to Chestnut at 5 and had an elegant, delectable dinner that we all shared. Vander ordered the charcuterie plate with duck. It was impressive and delish. We also got shrimp and grits, lobster bisque (Justin's favorite food on the whole trip), and risotto balls. Wow, it really blew us away.  We skipped their desserts because being the chocoholics that we all are we had to venture back to the chocolate lounge. The boys had a chocolate creme brulee that they got to watch the guy torch. Justy had chocolate cake and I had the liquid truffle. Holy moly was that amazing. Justin regretted not getting it for the rest of the trip. It was soooo good - smooth and rich. Just wow! But, alas, our hotel was in Hendersonville so we drove the hour and a half to the hotel. The kids couldn't get over how so many of the cities were villes. Nashville to Asheville to Hendersonville.
Day 7: In the morning I could tell Justin needed a break, so instead of going to Charlotte, NC the boys and I went to Hands On! It was the discovery museum in Hendersonville. We stoped by their Heritage museum while we were waiting for the kids building to open. It had some really extensive model train displays and a guide who was thrilled to have out of town visitors. It was free, so that made it even better.
Vander was very intrigued that they had a time capsul. He thinks he might go back when they open it in the future. ;) We walked down the street and Justin met up with us for lunch at Mo's Original BBQ and then came across MacFarlan's bakery so we had some cookies and cake. Justin had fancy twinky. It was so rich that I couldn't finish my carrot cake, but yum! Back in the car and headed to Columbia, SC. We stopped in to the state house and the state museum to see what times the shows were for the next day so we could plan. We really enjoyed the state house. It was very regal.They had a video and then a short tour. It was much more elegant than any of the other Capitol buildings we have been to. Congress was in session so we got to sit in and watch the senate for a while. It was fascinating. It
honestly only looked like 1 person was listening to the speaker, 3 at most cause the head of the senate had to listen and one other guy was debating the speaker. Everyone else seemed to be walking around or on their cell phone or reading a book or magazine. It was not at all what I expected.
We went to the Oyster Bar for dinner and Vander tried a raw oyster. He said that he liked it a 3 out of 10. I am so proud of him for trying it though. I sure didn't want to.We went back to the hotel and they were serving free sliders, so we crammed some more food in. They were pretty good sliders, so it just made sense (or did it?)
Day 8: We started our day at Cromer's Pnuts for some carmel corn and flavored popcorn for later. We had a scheduled tour of the Governor's Mansion. South Carolina has the youngest governor, and it's a woman. She actually lives in the house and they do tours in the morning during business hours and they only show the first floor. Still, I don't think I would like that much at all.
We decided we could sustain ourselves with nuts and granola bars (not our best plan) We spent most of our day at the South Carolina State Museum. It was four floors and lots of extra stuff. We decided to see the Earth, Moon, and Sun show in the planetarium and the boys really enjoyed that. Vander even learned some things that I have heard him retell a few times. We also thought the kids would like the 4D experience of Shallow Seas - they did not. Vander was completely freaked out and he thought it was super scary when they blew air on his legs. Oliven liked the bubbles and his legs were too short to feel the air, but after Vander said he didn't like it Ollie adamantly agreed. We saw saw tons of neat exibits and enjoyed our time at the museum. We had a piece of peanut butter fudge while we were there to tide us over and then left when the museum closed. We were told that Grouchos Sandwiches was the place to go, so we headed over. I have never had that much meat on a sandwich. It was really different and the meat was fresh sliced with cheese melted over it. We all enjoyed it very much. We hopped in the car and headed to Charleston.

Day 9: Our first stop was the Magnolia Plantation. I wanted the kids to have a very clear understanding of what slavery really looked like and what it would have felt like to so we took the tour of the slave cabins. First we visited the animals at their petting zoo: goats, deer (that wanted to know what was in my purse), peacocks, a duck that chased Oliven around squawking. We got to see 4 slave cabins redone to show what they looked like through time and the tour guide told us about their history. This plantation grew wheat and the slaves worked on tasks instead of sun up to sun down. Though I do have to say they spun it to make it sound like they had very happy slaves. I don't think those two go very well together.
Then, we went to see the owners house. It was huge, and only housed about five people, while each slave cabin housed eight in one room with no doors or bathroom. The kids were astonished at how big and nice it was compared to the slave cabins, so I hope that sticks with them and they did learn something from this experience. It was exactly the way I imagined it.
We had a reservation at a restaurant called Husk, which is apparently THE restaurant to go to South Carolina, so our reservation was for lunch. It was amazing. Pig ear lettuce wraps were the star of the meal. Vander gave the meal 20 thumbs up and 10 thumbs up from Oliven for the pig ears being crunchy. A super expensive, elegant meal with a great ambiance that we all really enjoyed. Totally worth it and we all highly recommend a trip to Husk for lunch or dinner.
When we finished up lunch we decided to go see the Old City Market. We got a Moon Pie since it was born in Charleston. The boys thought they were great. Justin and I were reminded of their mediocrity. There was lots of hustle and bustle. I tried to convince the boys to go on horse-drawn carriage ride of the city, but they were not having it. So, instead we decided to walk along the water. We stopped in to a chocolate bar for a mid-day treat. The boys had an ice cream sundae in a chocolate bowl with various types of ice cream and toppings. The only problem with this great walking plan was that Justin was not dressed for windy sea breezes. After a bit of time he became cold and cranky. Not a great combination. So, by the time we went to have dinner we went to a place that was recommended to us called 82 Queen. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into...it ended up being just as expensive as Husk and Justin was already in a bad mood, so he pretty much made the super expensive meal really uncomfortable. It was too bad, because the food I had at this restaurant was my favorite on the whole trip. The veggie platter was amazing. That night the 3 boys took full advantage of the whirl pool tub in our hotel room.
DAY 10: Saturday, Feb. 20th We hopped in the car after our breakfast for a 2 hour drive from Charleston to Savannah. Savannah was EXACTLY how I remembered it: in a word beautiful. The trees on the sides of the streets are growing over the street and meeting in the middle so you feel like your are driving down the street under tree arches - amazing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Our first stop was at Old Fort Jackson. We went to see where the confederates were guarding their territory from those crazy northerners. (It's not often you hear it from the side of the confederates being that the north won and that is clearly who we in California side with). Anyway, we got to hear all about the history of the fort and how they kept stationing people at the fort, but they never saw any action and still died in huge numbers because of all the mosquitoes. To be fair they mostly didn't see any action because it was a strong fort. They built another one down the river, but it wasn't great because that fort was on one side of a fork in the water. So, not a very useful fort after all. There was a guy dressed in confederate garb who shot the cannon off every hour or so, and we got to be the volunteers he showed everyone the process of shooting the canon too. It was really cool. Vander was in charge of the worm head to clear out the cannon of any big pieces left behind. Then Oliven used the sponge and rammer to really do the final cannon cleaning before I could bring up the balls (which we did not have) and the gun powder canisters. Not surprisingly, Justin got to be the calling in a nice loud voice of all the commands. We did a simulation run through. Then, the confederate soldier had us sit down and watch as he did all the parts to the cannon shooting including shooting the cannon after covering our ears.  Thank goodness we did cause it was very loud. He didn't shoot an actual cannon ball, but we definitely saw what it looked like with the bang and the gun powder. It was pretty impressive. This was one of my favorite things on the trip. Vander and Oliven found oyster shells behind the fort and chose them for a free souvenir.
We were pretty hungry by the time we were done with the fort so we thought it was time to go visit Hugh Acheson's restaurant, The Florence. And, who doesn't love Italian style pizza? The restaurant was super confusing, you had to go in one side to order, then sit at a table and wait for the waiter to come over and serve you. The building looked very warehousy and the wait staff were like goth tattooed. It was strange, and the ambiance was not that comfortable. The neighborhood also seemed really industrial, but like cold impersonal industry, not like lots of small businesses or strip malls. The food was good - we have had better in Austin for sure, but I would eat it again.
Back to how cute Savannah is...so so so cute. We went down to the Savannah Historic District and just walked around. It was so cute. Did I mention that? They have little squares every few blocks throughout the city. They are like grassy areas with pathways and some have statues, some have fountains. They are cozy, tree-lined, welcoming, and just down right delightful. When we had our fill of Savannah (ha, yeah right), we went back to the hotel and had a happy hour dinner in the hotel. The people at the table next to us were super impressed with our kids and what good travelers they are. I know right? They really are - most of the time. The biggest issue with this trip was all the arguments the boys had with each other in the hotel room. Enough already. "Can't we all just get along?"
DAY 11: Sunday, Feb. 21st In the morning, after breakfast, we started our drive (do you feel like I've said that a lot?) to Atlanta. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive. I made a reservation for the Martin Luther King house for the afternoon. We went straight to lunch at Flip Burger, Richard Blaise's restaurant. It was fantastic. All kinds of funky fun hamburgers and super fun sides. The desserts were also all-stars. We ended up getting the nutella with toasted marshmallow milkshake and the turtle milkshake, which was probably the best milkshake I have had in my life. Vander got himself into trouble for not listening and was devastated to not get to taste the second milkshake that we shared. Life sure can be tough some times. The ambiance at this restaurant  was super fun. It was a big white room with red decorations. It was an open kitchen and the milkshakes were lit on fire and the cold part was frozen with liquid nitrogen so they smoked. So freakin' cool. Well done sir.
We headed to the home of young Martin Luther King Jr. This is the house that he grew up in on the block where he grew up. It included a fire station that he used to hang out in the back of for basketball and the church where his father preached. By the end of our time looking around we decided to call it an early day. The kids were falling apart. We let them stop and play at a little park right next to MLK's house and as they were playing it started to rain. We headed back to the hotel and decided that we could have popcorn, fruit, and one choice of junk food for dinner from snacks that had accumulated. First the boys went with me to see the gym and we ended up doing machines for like 45 minutes. Vander is hard core. He stayed on like elliptical and the treadmill for about 15 minutes each. He was super excited when one of the machines said that he had burned 22 calories. Score!
DAY 12: Monday, Feb. 22nd Alrighty, time to go see the bustling Georgia state capital building. It was bustling. There were a ton of things going on in the building. We went in to where they were going to start the Senate, but they said if we stayed they were going to close the doors for 20 minutes for the opening and you had to be silent and not leave during that time. The boys were intrigued, but ultimately decided that they would skip this part of the experience this time around. Not gonna lie, I was a little bummed, but I totally understood.
It was time to go to Margaret Mitchel's house. The women who wrote Gone with the Wind. It was exciting for me. She was quite an interesting women. She wrote the book to entertain herself while she had a hurt foot. She didn't want anyone to read it because according to her it wasn't very good. I beg to differ. The kids thought it was by far the worst place we went on our whole trip. I don't blame them. I was so intrigued that we stayed for a while. It was not really a kid place at all. There was nothing fun for them like there was almost everywhere else. I got caught up in the how Gone with the Wind was made movie. It was enthralling. I kept thinking it's got to be almost over, but I finally found a sign that said it was 2 1/2 hours so I had to pull myself away. It took me too long. We ended up getting a parking ticket. Totally my fault (mostly). Luckily it was only $35, no ticket would have been better, but it could have been a lot more and there is nothing we could have done about it.
It was definitely past time to gets some food, but we still hadn't had any really good fried chicken, so we looked up some fried chicken places. The first one we drove past and kept going cause the line down the building was daunting. The next one the line didn't look that long, but it was a very long wait in very cramped quarters. People didn't seem all that upset about it, so we knew it would be good, but man was it uncomfortable. The line was short so we decided even though we were all really hungry we would forgo having a snack (except Oliven). Not our best move. Super hungry does not make for good moods. Finally we were seated and food still took for.....ev.....er, but the fried chicken was amazing. It can't be denied, it was really really good. "Busybee Soulfood" had a ton of accolades on the walls including articles that said that the staff were interesting characters. So very true. The waitress at our table called us all baby. Everything seemed to be sticky and nobody seemed to care. When they brought the chicken to our table and it was breasts and Justin had asked them to substitute thighs, so the lady had Justin grab the chicken and put it on another plate. Who does that? Then she said she would bring us the thighs when they were ready. That ended up being like 35 minutes and 2 peach cobblers later. So, Justin had chicken for his dessert. Vander thought the peach cobbler had too much nutmeg. Gotta appreciate my little foodie.
After a very long lunch we went to the Atlanta History Center. We got to see lots of fun exhibits about Atlanta - the highlight being all about the Olympic games. We also saw a farmhouse from the past around 1860s, a 1928 mansion, and a wood cabin. The 1928 mansion and gardens, called the Swan house are in the Hunger Games as the Capitol where President Snow lives. Pretty cool. We closed the museum down and went back to the hotel to have some snacks and go to bed.
DAY 13: Tuesday, Feb. 23rd Goodbye South, hello South San Jose. We missed you. We were back to sleep in our own beds. Nothing really noteworthy happened on the flights home, which is a good thing!
Overall Justin rated the trip a 6, I rated it an 7, Vander rated it a 7, and Oliven rated it a 9.
Things we learned from our trip: We want to have a few days of our trip at least to just be in the same city and really explore it at a more leisurely pace so that we can have some down time. Things can get a bit hectic with all that driving. We see a ton, but it can be a bit much at times. Also, we thought around day 11 might have been a good time to head home. Of course the length of our trips is also determined by the plane flights. They are significantly cheaper on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There were lots of cities on this trip we would like to return to at some point: Justin: Memphis and Savannah; Ashley: Savannah and Charleston (and Nashville and Memphis); Vander: Savannah and Nashville; Oliven: Atlanta and Nashville.