Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Off We Go to Biloxi

Room key, Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino, Biloxi, MississippiWe took a quick overnight trip to the Biloxi casinos. The Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino's IsleOne member card (which is also your room key) has a cheery logo but the experience this time was not completely cheery for the customers. And quality control on the hotel side seems to be slipping a bit. I think we have stayed there once too often.

Up the street at Harrah's Grand Casino Biloxi the staff was friendly and went out of their way to make their guests feel welcome. Hooray for Harrah's. We enjoyed their wonderful breakfast buffet.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Finding Country Food on the Road

On the trip to Maine we soon got tired of the usual roadside joints -- The Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, Ruby Tuesday, Denny's, etc. Then we remembered what Rachael Ray always says on TV, "When you are traveling and want a good meal -- ask the locals."

We were passing through Bristol, Tennessee and saw a sign on Interstate 81 telling us the Virginia Welcome Center and Rest Area was coming up. And since we needed both we stopped. In Bristol, Virginia. Yes indeed, the city of Bristol is in two states and the state line runs right through the middle of downtown.

State Street, in Downtown Bristol, Virginia (left) and Bristol, Tennessee (right)State Street, in the photo above, is the main street of Bristol. The center line of State Street is the state line with Virginia on the left and Tennessee on the right.

There was a lovely southern lady at the counter in the Welcome Center and when I asked about a place for lunch that served hearty local food she immediately said, "Bonnie's." She also said we better not be suffering from any coronary conditions...

We loved the directions to Bonnie's Family Restaurant -- cross over the interstate and look for a trailer park on the right. Bonnie's is in the strip shopping mall just past the trailer park. Bonnie's was just what the hungry traveler needed. Meat, two sides and rolls or cornbread for around $6.00. We were the only tourists there that day. Perhaps the only tourists ever to eat there. I had country ham, coleslaw and corn bread salad. Jack had country fried steak with corn and homemade mashed potatoes. The rolls looked home made and wonderful. We chose the cornbread.

The food was great and the cornbread salad was unusual to say the least. I had heard that such a thing existed but had never seen it on a menu. It was crumbled up, yesterday's I'm sure, cornbread mixed with corn, peas, and finely chopped onion, celery and bell pepper, all held together with a mild dressing -- perhaps mayonnaise and sour cream. Gooey and wonderful. As for the cornbread itself, every region has its own style and texture. This was dry, sweet and made with white cornmeal, not the familiar (to us) yellow cornmeal. We didn't like it much. Too sweet. However, just as with crab cakes, I always order cornbread when it's on a menu because when it's good it is worth all those indifferent crab cakes and cornbreads eaten in the quest for perfection.

Back on the road, full of country food and ready to drive to the Roanoke/Salem area where we spent the night after a terrible meal in a Mexican restaurant there, of which I will say no more.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

On the Road [never] Again

Maine lobsterA few posts ago I promised you a report on the Road Trip to Maine. Now that we are back I think I am safe in saying -- "You don't want to know." But let me tell you a little about it anyway.

Early in November we left northern Florida on a Monday and drove over 400 miles to Chattanooga and stayed in a horrible motel. For the rest of the trip the motels were better, but the weather turned on us. The first day was mostly gray skies, but the next day the rain and fog started and never let up. Twelve days -- and we had maybe three days without rain, totally overcast skies but no rain. And two sunny afternoons.

We missed seeing any of the beautiful, I am told, Shenandoah Valley, both ways.

We got to Maine on Friday after stops in Roanoke, Virginia; Wilkes-Barre, Pensylvania and Auburn, Massachusetts. Lunch was in Kennebunkport, Maine, at a wonderful restaurant in the heart of town, Alisson's, lobster rolls and chowder. Then on to central Maine.

My parents, both in their late-80s, were fine as was my sister and her family. On Saturday we drove to my sister's house -- about 90 miles away -- and had a turkey dinner. There were ten of us. Not only was I there but all her children could come up and most of them couldn't on Thanksgiving Day. So we did it early. Everybody had a good time. Everybody except Jack who stayed at the motel, feeling poorly. The long car trip was taking its toll on him. It appeared that he hadn't had time to recover from his hospital visit, and surgery, a few weeks before.

The next day was Sunday and we had plans to drive to the Maine coast for the scenery but the cold rain and lack of visibility made that a bad idea. So we went to The Weathervane, a nearby seafood restaurant, and had seashore food at least, but without a view of the sea. Although The Weathervane is part of a chain, it is a small chain and a local one, so the food is good. Very good.

By late Sunday afternoon the rain and wind was getting heavy. And the wet roads were beginning to freeze. Because of that, coupled with forecasts of worsening weather and Jack's continued illness, we decided to head south a day early. We left on Monday morning driving through a heavy storm that lasted for the next three days -- with overnights in Fishkill, New York; Chambersburg, Virginia; Max Meadows, Tennessee and Fort Payne, Alabama. We moved right along. The rain plus thick fog is nasty to drive through but we needed to get home ASAP.

If you find yourself in Staunton, Virginia, even in the rain, don't miss a meal at Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant And don't leave without a jar of her apple butter.

We got home on Friday afternoon -- 3536 miles, 12 days and 13 states: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Looking on the bright side:
We had a good, however brief, visit with my family. We got home, lame and tired, but safe and fairly sound. The cats were well fed and happy to see us.

PS How did we get to Maine and back? Here's the story of the car...

Although both of our cars are capable of such a long trip they are light-weight, compact cars. We knew that something a bit heavier would make for a more comfortable ride, especially one that's going to be well over 3,000 miles long. And although both cars are in good condition they are not new cars. The last thing we would want is car trouble on some far away Interstate highway with winter coming on.

So, it would be a good idea to rent a big, heavy car for the trip. It would be comfortable with a nice smooth ride. If there were any problems, all of the rental cars companies have branch offices along the way. Plus I had a coupon from American Airlines for a rental car upgrade. Standard to full size or full to a premium class car.

We decided to reserve a full size and hope for an upgrade, they said it would be something like a Grand Marquis (whatever that is). The afternoon before we started out I went to the car place and the person at the desk said he was sorry but they were out of premium class cars. But because of my membership in American Airlines' Gold Club, he could give us a double upgrade and I drove away in a light tan Lincoln Town Car with 140 miles on it.

The ultimate big ol' retired peoples' car.

I couldn't fit it into the garage. It was huge, but it rode like a dream and had features I had always scoffed at, like heated seats. Well, living in Florida a heated seat may not mean all that much but on a frosty morning in Maine, or even Virginia, in November it was very, very nice.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Welcome to Maine (but watch the snacking, Lardass!)

Welcome to Maine, Visitor Center, Kittery Maine
The bottom blue sign is enlarged below
Snack Wisely!
Watch out, the snack police are watching those vending machines.

Sorry about the low quality photos. It was a dark and rainy afternoon and all I had was a cell phone to snap the pictures.