Orlando to Memphis
11.04.2013 - 17.04.2013 28 °C
Day 1: Orlando to Crawfordville
We started driving at 10am and it took us just over 5 hours to get to Apalachicola (still in Florida, not sure how to pronounce it...) where 90% of Florida's oysters come from. Along the way we stopped over at the petrol station for some lunch but we couldn't find anything besides fried chicken, fried nuggets and anything that does not start with the word FRIED!! So we decided to just munch on some corn crackers we had in the car and continue on to Apalachicola which is supposedly the last place in the US where wild oysters are still harvested by tongs from small boats. Old school oysters . When we got there, we were really hungry!! We ate at a place called Boss Oysters- they had a dozen styles of cooking oysters (we tried 3 of them); had some soft shell crab and key lime pie for dessert. These are the biggest oysters I've (Blake) eaten and pretty close to my favourite. They had a pretty mellow taste and they were so big that each one took two bites!
We saw some State prisoners working along the side of the road. What a great idea!! We should do that in Australia. But I wonder how many of them have planned their escape... so easy to run while out of the prison!!
Day 2: Wakulla Springs
We drove to the Wakulla Springs which is only a 30 minutes drive from our hotel. It is one of the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs flowing out at 54,220L/second with the deepest section over 50m deep. WOW. We were going to go on the next river boat ride but it had a primary school group on board, so we decided to take a later one. In the mean time we took a walk on a trail leading through the national park. We both got bitten by a couple of mozzies but nothing to cry about. The crazy thing was that the lodge didn't sell any insect repellent. Pretty surprised since its in the middle of a swamp!
We walked back to the river dock and jumped on board the next boat. The boats cruise up and down the river all day so our guide knew exactly where to find turtles, manatees and GATORS! The manatees were huge and look quite different to anything we've seen before. It was pretty cool to be less than 2m away from one swimming in the wild. There were quite a few turtles and plenty of alligators to look at too.
After seeing so many alligators on our (nice and cheap) $8 cruise we decided it would be a great idea to take a swim in the springs with them. There is a diving platform near the spring with the water below at least 5m deep. We had some fun jumping in out and around and there wasn't a gator in sight. The tower doesn't look very high, but looking down from the top- it was so scary (for Michelle, not tough guy Blake)!! It took Michelle a bit of convincing to jump off it!! The worst thing is, there is nothing separating the swimming area in the springs and the waters in which you can see gators swimming around!!
After a good swim we were starving so we tried to get into the restaurant at the lodge. It had already closed so we headed back toward our hotel and stopped off at Poseys and enjoyed some great seafood. The place looked like a bit of a dive but the food was great! Michelle had some steamed prawns, boiled oysters and grilled crab cakes. I had blackened fish which is a grilled fish with a spice rub on it.
On the way home we found our first Walmart. This was pretty exciting for us as we haven't seen one in the 6 weeks we've been here... We bought some cheap clothes and dinner and our day was done.
Our first stop was Sopchoppy, which just so happened to be the 13th Annual Worm Grunting Festival. The first thing we said was "I've never heard a worm grunt before". We found out that worm grunting is a serious business after talking to some local grunters (I think that's the title). Basically worm grunting is done by sticking a wooden stake in the ground and grinding the top with a piece of metal. The rubbing creates a vibration which drives the worms to the surface. Michelle and I had a go at grunting but had no luck in the designated worm grunting area but I'm guessing that area was picked clean. I (Blake) bought a knife made from deer bone and petrified wood which looks great but probably won't get through customs with me .. Worth a chance though.
With our worm grunting careers in tatters we hit the road. Next stop Mobile, Alabama. On the way we passed through Freeport and had some more seafood. Michelle's snow crab was awesome but my fish was just ok. I wasn't expecting it to be fried... Guess it was pretty good for fried fish but we've had so much fatty fried foods in the US that its starting to put us off. We also tried gator tail. It tasted like chicken, unfortunately it was fried too. Michelle seems to be quite lucky in ordering seafood. Hers always seem to turn out better (probably because she makes sure she doesn't end up with a plate of fried food!)
We've planned our road trip pretty tight, not allowing much time for bad weather or other issues. Unfortunately today was raining all day. We were on the way to the airboat ride/gator farm (in the driving rain) when the radio station cut off to a tornado/hurricane warning for the area we were driving to. We ended up driving past the gator farm, straight to The Shed, a classic Mississippi BBQ joint in a shed (believe it or not). The bbq was tasty but the building itself was awesome. It looks like some bloke has gone around town and grabbed all of the old junk from peoples yards and put it around his shed. Nothing gross, just interesting things like parts of rocking horses, signs and christmas lights.
We were stuffed by the time we left but decided to continue on to our last stop, the Loxley strawberry festival. Unfortunately it was closed for bad weather. On the bright side we bought a huge strawberry cheesecake for $4 which was delicious! We took it home and I (Blake) pigged out and Michelle just watched...
Day 5: Memphis
We checked out of the hotel and headed straight to the Gator ranch which we missed yesterday. It is a alligator farm on a swamp. I (Michelle) wasn't keen on the alligators but the airboat ride was awesome. We missed the gator boys (from the TV show) by 30minutes! Would have been our first celebreties in the US...
We drove just over 6 hours to Memphis, returning the car at the airport. It was a very long drive but we made it. We took a taxi to our hotel the Crowne Plaza (another 4 star hotel bargain we bid for on Priceline), then got dropped off in town by the hotel's complimentary shuttle. We had dinner at a burger joint called Huey's- recommended by the hotel. The burger wasn't exactly the best, but it was tasty. Blake struggled to get through his super giant onion rings!! We also tried fried pickles- which were surprisingly good.
We started the day with a tour of Sun studios. This is where the birthplace of Rock N Rock. Both Elvis Presley & Johnny Cash started their careers here. It is only a tiny studio, but it is the history that we were interested in. The tour guide named quite a few more famous singers like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison.. and played their songs.. but its way passed Michelle's generation. She had no idea who they were. I was just lucky I'd heard them a bit growing up. I'm a spittin' image of the King, don't you think?
Once we were done we took the free shuttle bus to Graceland- Elvis's home. We bought a platinum ticket which entitled us to visit his mansion, the airplanes and a few other exhibits which weren't really too exciting. His mansion however is quite impressive. We were given an audio guide to take us around the house.
On the way home we decided to stop at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis to watch their resident ducks march back up to their room at 5pm. Everyday at this hotel, they roll out the red carpet for the ducks to march down into the fountain in the middle of the hotel and back up to their 'room'- i.e.. courtyard above the hotel, at 5pm. The ducks are led by the duck master (its a person not a duck).
We finished the night hanging out on Beale Street. This is the hub of the black community in the south. Every night club, pub/bar lit up at night with live music at every corner of the street. We had dinner at BB-King and enjoyed some live music while filling our bellies with some 'beer chilli'- basically a chilli con carne; And some memphis style (dry) ribs. After that we popped into another bar to hear some Jonny Cash.
Today was a lazy day. We took the trolley around the riverfront which was a bit of a let down as the view was rubbish. We stopped in at the Flying Fish restaurant for some seafood (can't handle too many nights of ribs in a row) which is a seafood restaurant that looks like a cross between a fishing shack and a 60's diner. I had the grilled catfish plate and Michelle had a pound of snow crabs. Really good considering how cheap this place was.
Next stop Clarksdale Mississippi, the home of the blues.