Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Books

Day 27: Friday, June 24, 2011 through Day 29: Sunday June 26, 2011

In the Books

On our way out of Pensacola we followed the advice or our best buddy, UrbanSpoon, to The Cactus Flower Café. It was highly rated, except for one post that claimed the restaurant was mis-representing itself as "Mexican" instead of "California Mexican".

This seemed a bit petty of a criticism to us, we also wondered how any body could miss the very detailed description on the sign out front.

We enjoyed mucha comida smothered in queso, and April enjoyed the abundance of men in uniform from the nearby Air Force base dining all around us.

A few hundred miles East, we set up camp at Falling Waters State Park in Chipley, Fl. Talk about mis-representation, this place is home to the “tallest waterfall in Florida". Of course, that's only when it rains -- it was currently dry due to the major drought. Still seemed to be plenty of water for the mosquitos, though – so Mark went for a walk while April and Andrew got their play on in the RV. Andrew has become quite the photographer.

Not to be outdone, Mark snapped some shots of his own while on his blood offering, I mean walk…

Morning brought more east-bound driving. We contacted one of our favorite people and former Tallahassee resident, Jana, and she pointed us straight to Momo’s Pizza for lunch. You’ve got to love a college town. Drinkers at the bar at 11am, GIANT pizza slices, young waitresses telling stories of their drunken adventures last night. Best of all, you can eat a huge meal for less than the cost of a few gallons of gas. If you’re lucky, this will rustle up some nostalgia within Mark and he’ll start talking about his college days. …

Mark: “I remember when I headed up from Miami to Tallahassee for the FSU/Miami football game. I had inadvertently swapped out my overnight bag with a matching bag full of fishing tackle and maps. When I discovered what I’d done it was too late, so my buddy Hill took me to Wal Mart at 1am for some clothes. That was before Wal Mart had even the tiny ounce of fashion it has now. I ended up with a Dale Earnhardt shirt and a pair of poorly fitting Faded Glory jeans. I looked horrible. We went to the bar that night and I didn’t even try to hit on any girls. Instead I went out back and found a guy cooking up some BBQ in the alley. I remember it was $4 a plate every trip through his little buffet line. It was so good. I went back two or three times. I spent like $12 on BBQ in that alley.”

Oh, Mark...

Miles down the road and one pizza coma later, we stopped off at Ichetucknee Springs State Park for a cool dip in their chilly spring. According to the heavily bearded ranger without a smidgen of personality, one can also do 2 or 4 hour float trips down the river from this location – but, he warned, “you can’t bring nothin’ with you.”

April: “Hmmm, nothing? Not even water? 4 hours seems like a long time with nothing to drink.”

Zero Personality Ranger: “Nothing.”

April: “How about a tube to float on?”

Ranger: “You can bring a tube.”

April: “Well that’s something.”

Ranger: “Ain’t much.”

Encounters such as this persuaded us to move on down the road a few miles to O’Leno State Park to set up camp. Thanks to our Tallahassee stop, we had plenty of groceries and Mark got to grilling and wine drinking immediately. As is campground courtesy, he tried to strike up conversation with what we would later determine were our mute neighbors. For hours he just thought them rude.

Back on Eastern Time, morning seemed to get started at a more reasonable hour and we got on the road headed South to Naples. At our breakfast stop, Andrew showed off his driving skills.

The tough decision was made to push through and get home. Back at the house, the massive task of unloading began - and Mark marveled at how much stuff our little RV was able to lug around for us for the past month. Another great trip in the books.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gulf Coast Museum Fest

Day 25:Wednesday, June 22, 2011 and Day 26: Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gulf Coast Museum Fest

Needless to say we were up and at them in time to get to the local children’s museum, the Lynn Meadow’s Discovery Center, just as it opened. An amazingly fun, air conditioned, kid-exhausting dream come true, we were certain we had found parent paradise. Then 10am hit – and Summer Camp started. What seemed like thousands of sweaty 8-10 year olds swarmed over the otherwise serene environment. Soon Andrew was being forced out of train cars, airplane cockpits, grocery stories and taco stands (all toddler sized, of course) by screaming, manic children. Like Brian Urlacher, Mark defended our little man the best he could, but soon we retreated to the calm joys of the “UNDER 4 ONLY” section and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

On our way out, Andrew tried to catch a chameleon he was sure was Pascal from the movie Tangled - thank you Nanny Jenni!

Ready for our respective naps (except for Driver Mark – who is never allowed to rest), the Royans got back in the RV and headed over to Mobile, Alabama to eat lunch at the very popular Felix’s Fish Camp. Andrew woke too suddenly as a steep and bumpy exit bopped his head around and was not in a good mood upon arrival.

Our waitress tried to entertain him with a variety of fun suggestions, but then she dropped an entire cup of honey mustard on Mark as she was clearing the neighboring table. Embarrassed, she called another waitress over to help clean up. Together, the two ladies sponged Mark from head to toe with soda water and cloth napkins. Then Mark discovered that one waitress had some on her shorts as well and he was asked to return the favor. Andrew was finally entertained; albeit by the display that may not have been completely appropriate for his viewing. Lunch at Hooters/Felix’s could continue with a plethora of free side dishes and desserts provided by management. After lunch we retreated to the RV for cold showers and continued to Pensacola, Florida.

Destination – the highly recommended National Naval Aviation Museum. As promised, the place was AMAZING. Andrew loved it so much we decided to set up camp in Pensacola for the night and return the next morning.

The Marine stationed at the check in center took one look at our little man and said “looks like you got yourself one heck of a co-pilot there.” Indeed, sir.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Really Truly Otto

Day 23: Monday, June 20, 2011 and Day 24: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Really Truly Otto

Morning found us cruising down the road toward Jackson, Mississippi through miles and miles of corn and what we think were cotton fields. Debate raged and fingers Googled until we spotted a sure source of knowledge: The Louisiana State Cotton Museum in Lake Providence, LA. Eager for answers, Mark and Andrew went in to check the place out.

Seems the place is closed on Mondays so that the staff can recover from the intense cotton history demand from the weekend. Disappointed, and still not sure what everybody is growing in that part of the world (because it sure didn't look like cotton), the boys headed back to the RV with plans to do the next best thing: eat!

Starving and officially in the middle of nowhere, April announced that Mark was going to need to go against everything he believes in and pull into a McDonalds for lunch. Horrified, Mark announced that he'd "sooner eat a piece of cardboard that food had once been stored in because it would certainly have at least an inkling of nutritional value" He immediately pulled over to consult his phone for a more reasonable dining option. Lou Ann's Restaurant and Market in Tallulah, LA seemed to be an internet sensation - so we drove past the Golden Arches and into down-south, sweet tea heaven. As we arrived, Lou Ann (or someone that may or may not have been her) walked out of the kitchen with a huge pile of freshly fried Okra and put it down on a piping hot buffet of some of the most delicious southern cooking we had ever seen... and the Royans ate it all up. In addition, Lou Ann (or whoever she was) insisted that we try some of her sweet tea - which was like sticking a straw right into a Honey Bear plus caffeine. Yummy!

Post lunch, Andrew and April fell into a buffet coma while Mark pushed the pedal to the home of our favorite Mississippians, The Ottos. This year brought a new addition to the Otto fam, 3-week-old Baby Cassidy.

Andrew's best buddy, Big Brother Ever Otto, greeted us with smiles, waves, and comments about how "huge" our RV was. Then the boys got down to the business of playing.

As night fell and more and more bottles of wine were opened, we put the boys in the tub so that Papa Casey and Mark could play with some of their own toys.

Rock star Casey not only cooks a mean steak, he also owns many, many instruments.

Early the next morning, we headed out to let the boys run around in a mall water fountain to further exhaust them before they had to part ways. Mama Otto took April shopping for some very expensive but very fabulous boots - which she did not buy but deeply wanted to.

After eating an entire grilled cheese and part of Ever's peanut butter and jelly for lunch, Andrew was asleep the minute he hit the RV car seat.

Thanks for a great time Ottos!

Baby snoozing, we headed south to Biloxi to camp along the Gulf of Mexico at the amenity-rich Cajun RV Park. Available luxury reads like offerings at the Hilton, and Mark took the opportunity to set up his grill and chat with the equally impressed neighbors for hours. Suddenly, a storm rolled in and sent grilling husbands everywhere scurrying to save their meat and their awnings simultaneously. The microwave had to finish off our chicken, but it was still delicious.

Andrew asleep, Mark and April sat watching White Collar on the 75 channel park cable and trying to remember why we would have left this great park after only one night last year? As we started to drift off to blissful sleep, the distinctive whistle of a freight train roared by... then another.... then another... This continued every 30 minutes until dawn as we longed to be back at the Otto house having lots and lots of fun and sleeping soundly in their homeowners association patrolled driveway.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Crappy Father's Day

Day 22: Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Crappy Father's Day

A 6:15am wake up by our dear baby boy got us up on and on the road by 7am. Having found an actual toad in our electrical compartment in Toad Suck park, we figured we’d seen all there was to see there.

In Pine Bluff, Arkansas we stopped for a sketchy but delicious breakfast at “the place next to the McDonalds – Annie’s – she makes everything from scratch” (as described by gas station attendant). After mouthfuls of home-smoked-ham Andrew announced “I’m ready for a nap” and April declared that he was the best child ever. After all, if you can’t praise your kid for announcing that he’d like to nap, what can you praise him for?

By noon we reached our destination, Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas, where the water is so inviting even the trees have to go in.

Nestled right on the banks of Lake Chicot (formerly part of the Mississsippi River), the park offered a sweet waterpark-like pool for the admission price of $3 each. Andrew dove right in.

In other news, Andrew has learned how to pick his nose…

And eat it…

Obviously Mark is doing all he can to discourage this habit.

Back at camp, Andrew got out some of his bulldozers and went to work.

Before bed he took a walk among the big trees and got another look at the lake.

As the day wound down, Happy Father's Day calls were made. When Mark told his Grandpa (Pippy) how hot it was in Arkansas, Pippy said “hotter than a two peckered goat, huh?” You know it, Pips.

Tuckered out baby in bed, Mark declared it one of the best days on the road we’ve had yet. He patted himself on the back for finding this fabulous park and for the great day the whole family was able to enjoy. Smiling, he went out to drain the sewer hose – and sprayed himself in the eye with raw sewage.

“Eww, you smell.” April gagged as Mark returned to the RV.

Mark: “Yeah, I’m just trying to move forward. What else can you do when you’ve got shit in your eye?”

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Toad Suck

Day 21: Friday, June 17, 2011 and Day 22: Saturday, June 18, 2011

Toad Suck

We left Lake of the Ozarks and headed south to Branson, Missouri. Branson is everything one would consider a tourist trap to be and then some . You can get an “old time photo” taken and then walk next door to see the Andy Williams (“Moon River”) dinner show for $49.95 each.

April’s parents graciously decided to join us as babysitters to allow for Mark and April to whoop it up on the famous Branson strip all night long.

We know what you’re saying to yourselves, “Is the Branson strip anything like the Vegas strip?”

Eh, Kind of: Imagine a Vegas strip with no casinos. But the quirky almost-famous or has-been stars are still there. They still need someplace to “perform”. The venue comes in corrugated aluminum sided warehouses theatres. This rip-roaring good time includes penne pasta, roll, iced tea or lemonade and a bunch of songs your parents might know but your grandparents would for sure recall. Alcohol not included but is readily available at the concession stand. At the end of the show you get a cookie.

We parked our rig at the Branson KOA and scored April’s parents a sweet cabin (“kabin” in KOA terms) just across the campground. This being the first KOA of our adult lives (each with enough trips as children to provoke nostalgia) – we happily frolicked about the awesome playground, giant trampoline, and waterslide areas – Andrew was excited as well.

Once we were settled, we donned our cameras and sneakers and got down to some serious tourism. First stop – the local Hollywood Wax Museum. April’s Mom was immediately scooped up by a giant King Kong!

Good thing Forest Gump was there to make her feel better, and offer her a box of chocolates.

April’s Dad confessed to having a secret crush on “Jeannie”.

Mark beamed up with the crew of the Starship Enterprise

A very pregnant April wasted no time “hopping” into bed with Hugh… Good thing she was already knocked up!

Back at the KOA, Andrew got a lift from Dad as we prepared to head out for “date night.”

April and Mark deftly navigated the streets of Branson in search of a Mexican restaurant. They couldn’t find it, but they did spot the famous Candlestick Inn like a beacon on the hillside inviting them for a delicious dinner. Mark enjoyed a Wagyu strip steak. He recommends it highly to anybody, its Australian for beef. April also had a delicious meal and we left the dinner happy that we didn’t find the restaurant we were originally looking for. Meanwhile Jer and Sue stayed back at the RV park eating leftovers with Andrew. Man, Grandparents are really great…

We rocked a 9pm IMAX of the Green Lantern and were awfully proud of ourselves for getting home just past 11:30 – big night out! WooHoo!

Morning brought an early Father’s Day trip to the Cracker Barrel with Jer and Sue before parting ways in the parking lot. 30 minutes down the road, Andrew screamed for Grandma and Grandpa to come back. He apparently doesn’t like his parents that much.

In the hills of Arkansas we came upon some kick ass road-side bakeries and farm stands. We of course loaded up on fresh goodies.

Only 100 miles into our day but ready to be done with all the winding Arkansas roads, we stopped for the night at Toad Suck Park, a Corps of Engineers campground in Conway, Arkansas. Andrew got his play on.

Just as we were about to fall asleep, sirens sounded. Mark, fresh off the Green Lantern movie, bravely went out to investigate. Agreement around the park was that the sirens meant “the Russians are coming.” We were pretty sure they weren’t – or if they were they wouldn’t choose Arkansas – so we slept soundly after that.

Snarfs and Snoozes

While driving the 1772 miles home from Bar Harbor, April looked and Mark and said... "What should we call our last blog of the summer?&...