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Alabama and Mississippi Trip

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 22, 2017

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Friday
Travel day #1 and it went ok as the first half was rain-free. We stopped halfway to check out the Shenandoah Caverns which included an hour in their underground cave. It’s pricey, but a good stop full of interesting visuals including the awesome Rainbow Lake (pictured above). Our 2-year old, Shayla, was excellent today in the car and enjoyed the Main Street of Yesteryear display. Part 2 of the drive was a struggle as a constant rain slowed things on 81 and the last hour got heavy enough where it was nerve wracking. Wearily, we arrived in Abingdon, VA and before checking in, ate at Luke’s Diner. Sorry, no Lorelai or Rory to be found.
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Saturday
Thankfully, we had much better weather on Day 2 as it was dry with clouds giving way to sunshine as we made our way through Tennessee and into Alabama. Our midway stop was in Gadsden, AL where lunch at a regional fast food joint (Jack’s) was followed by a few hours at Noccolula Falls Park. Glad the drought down here has improved and it also allowed for the water to flow into the beautiful Falls in the northern part of the park. Our final long drive dragged on the rather dull stretch of I-59 that goes into Mississippi. But I’ll take dull scenery anyday over tough driving. We reached Hattiesburg in the evening and starving, I was very much looking forward to good Barbecue at Leatha’s. After the
good reviews I read, I was sure this would deliver. Wrong! I left so disappointed and discouraged, it kinda ruined the night. A waitress/server, didn’t come by until 10 minutes in, then they told us no chicken, just pork left. Bad news for my wife (Cheryl), who doesn’t eat pork. She was gracious enough to stay and just eat the sides knowing how bad I wanted Southern BBQ. So we waited and waited, until 45 minutes later finally getting food. I understand the slowness, but the disappointing part is not once having their staff let us know how long it would be, or even check on us during the meal. Even worse, they talked to EVERY other table but ours and was friendly with them. They didn’t even say goodbye to us. It’s not like we’re not friendly, was it because our accents gave away we’re Northerners? Errrr and the food was just ok, pulled pork was fatty and I’ve certainly had tastier. Better days ahead.
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Sunday
Hopes of sleeping in were dashed by a 6 AM Shayla wake-up, but that was ok because we went to the elegant campus entrance and rose garden at Southern Miss before it got too hot. This would be the only day where the family would separate as the ladies went to the zoo and I saw college baseball under the afternoon sun (well, I did grab a seat where there was limited shade). The Golden Eagles took on UAB and their 8-0 shutout win gave USM the conference regular-season title. It wasn’t a big crowd at Pete Taylor Park, but they were appreciative and supportive of their players on Senior Day. My favorite ballpark feature was The Grove, where trucks lined up down the right-field line and outfield to tailgate and watch the game. Very cool. After the game, we drove through the Pine Belt to the Gulf Coast, where dinner was much better this time as we ate at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant in Ocean Springs. This is a beautiful town and we spent the rest of the evening strolling the boardwalk.
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Monday
We moved on to Biloxi, where it was a beach morning before climbing the Lighthouse and seeing the Visitors Center. We also took the Biloxi Tour Train, led by the wonderful Carla. This was a great tour of the city as it is a fascinating place with a history and present worth exploring. Carla also talked (and showed) Katrina and my heart broke at the sights and stories. Media focuses(d) on New Orleans, but these coastal communities were destroyed as well. After heading back for a Shayla nap we went to Ballpark #2 on the trip: relatively new MGM Park. The Shuckers arrived just a few years ago from Huntsville and their home is near the center of the city as the massive Beau Rivage Hotel and Casino towers over right field. An impressive sight, but one that does block a beach and water view. The ballpark does not have a front entrance, thus leading to a continuous concourse wall and an area more exposed than usual as the suites are set further back. Unfortunately, the Braves blew out Biloxi, ending my 7-game winning streak. This was Shayla’s first sporting event and she spent 75% of the time fascinated by “Big Bird”, aka Schooner, the team’s mascot.
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Tuesday
This day was more for the girls as we all started by visiting the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in nearby Gulfport, where Shayla had a blast in the two-story kids play area. I would love to have something like this back at home for her. We ate lunch at the peaceful Blow Fly Inn before continuing in Gulfport at the Marine Mammal Institute. Cheryl is a Veterinary Technician and the tour we took was a great behind-the-scenes look at their research and rescue. For dinner, we went to the Beau Rivage and sampled the pretty good buffet. The day was capped off with a perfect finale walking along the sand in Ocean Springs.
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Wednesday
We said goodbye to Mississippi and hello again to Alabama as we drove three hours to the capital in Montgomery. It was a food day that I very much enjoyed as our first stop was lunch at the Stockyard Grill, located where cattle are sold. I’ve never seen a place like it as people from all walks of life were eating: Police Officers, Ranchers, Businessmen, Retired Couples. It was a true blend of people enjoying darn good food and my Ribeye Steak was a perfect lunch. Dinner was at Martin’s, a Montgomery institution. Had to have the Fried Chicken and it was as good as expected. Two trends that I have noticed down here: You get the bill right after ordering, so does that mean dessert is supposed to be ordered with the meal? Second, they ask if you want your drink to go. I like that. In between food, we spent time at the Alabama State Museum. This was done very well and I could have stayed for hours. It has been a rough 300 years for this state, but the last few decades, life has improved quite a bit and I applaud this museum for their terrific displays and storytelling, despite challenging and sad subject matters. In the evening, we went to Paterson Field, a good example of an older stadium that has survived to serve an alternate purpose. They co-host the High School State Baseball Championships and we saw Game 1 of the 5A Final between Faith Academy and Russellville, who was looking for their third straight title. They looked well on their way with a 9-1 win. I was hoping for more character from the ballpark, which was built in 1949 and while the structure was all well and good, the lack of overhang and metal bleachers made for a generic place.
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Thursday
9.2 miles. That was how much walking I did, but the journey led to me falling in love with Montgomery. It’s a city that has had so much pain and trouble, but now it features a diverse population with plenty to do, good food, little traffic and increasingly trendy areas. First, we went to Old Alabama Town to spend the morning, which took us back to 1800s Alabama. We then took a step back in time with lunch at Farmers Market Cafe. More Wood Paneling! This Fried Chicken was better than yesterday’s at Martin’s. While, Cheryl and Shayla went back to nap at the hotel, I explored all around downtown. This included stops at Riverfront Park, The Alley, the Visitor’s Center in Union Station and the Rosa Parks Museum. We ate dinner at Dreamland BBQ and then went to Riverfront Stadium, which was awesome! I’ve seen plenty of ballparks do the train theme, but none have been more appropriate or effective than how Montgomery did it. The actual exterior is an old train station and inside, more old station decor sets the ballpark apart. It is a unique set-up as well. To make the game even better, we had a storm in the background, so I went to centerfield to watch the game with the city skyline and lightning in the background. Despite my astonishment that the game went on despite the electrical threat, it was a perfect evening. Except that the Biscuits got burnt (ooohhhhhh) as they lost to the Jackson Generals 12-6.
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Friday
Last day in Montgomery and we ventured out of downtown to the Zoo, which was crawling with school groups. Shayla enjoyed the animals, but the heat really bogged us down. I’ll take the heat in place of rain as it allowed us to achieve all of our plans. We had a little extra time before heading to Auburn, so we did the Capital Building tour and drove down Dexter Ave. When we got to Auburn, I had to make sure we stopped at Toomer’s Drugs to get a refreshing cup of lemonade, which was everything it was hyped up to be. As for “The Loveliest Little Village on The Plains”…meh. I mean it was quaint and nice and all, but maybe the “SEC is Greatest” mindset has me soured a tad. This is combined with little things that were annoying, like the lack of parking at our hotel and the ticket lady telling us that ALL fans needed a ticket and our 2-year-old couldn’t get in without one (despite her sitting on our lap). I will say campus was beautiful, as was Plainsman Park. Lots of team honors and great seating touches make this one of the best college ballparks in the sport, though I could do without the kitschy design features likes the Green Monster. The Tigers beat up on Ole Miss as they won 9-1, concluding a trip of complete blowouts (which doesn’t help a sport that can be dull to begin with).

Our long drive back home would be split into two days and there wasn’t much noteworthy with our stopovers. We had a great family trip to our country’s Deep South and it is an area I hope to return to for future sports journeys. Thank you to the weather, which was great since the rain stayed away. The stadiums I saw were pretty good and they should rate well when I get to completing their thorough review over the next month.

 

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