We’ve had a busy few days! When I last wrote, we were on the road, heading to Huntsville, Alabama. The afternoon turned into an adventure when we saw, on the two-lane, rural road we took to reach Monte Sano State Park (click here to read our review), a big, bright orange DETOUR sign. Of course, there was no place to pull over, let alone turn around – so we followed the twists and turns of an even narrower rural road, through a tunnel of green trees, over one lane bridges with load limit signs that made our stomachs flip, with our GPS moaning at every turn.
Eventually back on track (whew), we passed Hampton Cove Golf Course , where Odel planned to play on Wednesday. We climbed up another narrow, twisting road to the state park, on top of a high hill outside Huntsville, and found our way to a large, level campsite in a heavy forest of green. It felt good to be parked. The huge surprise? No Verizon service for our phones, and an extremely tenuous, intermittent signal for the aircard… so I’ve fallen a bit behind on the blog.
We gained an hour passing from Eastern DT to Central DT, so it was early afternoon when we completed our setup. We hopped into Jules and headed back to the Hampton Cove Golf Course, one of the 26 courses that comprise Alabama’s celebrated Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Though Odel usually plays the more reasonably priced municipal golf courses, here was a chance to play a beautiful course with a famous name – and very reasonably priced compared with coastal golf resorts. He had a day to reconcile himself to the greens fees.
After we visited the pro shop and examined the course from the clubhouse balcony, we headed back towards the parking lot, passing rows of ready-to-go golf carts and a cluster of employees. They wondered if we had any questions, struck up a conversation… and soon we were taking off in a golf cart to explore the back nine of the course Odel intended to play
If you are not a golfer, let me tell you – this just is Not Done! The course was virtually empty – a tournament would start in 45 minutes – so we ranged freely while Odel studied the layout. Wow, did we have fun, speeding along the cart paths, critiquing the mansions along the boundaries, and taking note of the sand traps, water hazards, and various hidden obstacles.
Wednesday morning, we were on our way around 9:30. I dropped Odel at the course, then headed downtown to the visitor center. Once again, the GPS was my savior – Huntsville is a VERY confusing town for the driving visitor. I left the visitor center loaded down with brochures and suggestions, and had no trouble filling four hours before it was time to pick Odel up at the course. Once again, a town that deserves more time for exploration than we have to give on this trip!
When I mentioned on the blog a few weeks ago that we would have the chance to visit the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, on our way to Memphis, we received an email from Dan, who reads our blog in Huntsville, Alabama. A friend of Dan’s is the CEO of the Unclaimed Baggage Center, so Dan thought he could get us a bit of VIP treatment on our visit. Also, Dan and his wife Carolyn are planning to begin fulltiming in 2012, and hoped we could get together for dinner and a “pick your brains” session. A flurry of emails resulted in plans to meet for dinner on Wednesday night at Greenbrier in nearby Madison.
When we crossed the border back into northern Alabama, I dug out my all-time favorite travel brochure (picked up when we first entered southern Alabama early in March), “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die”. Guess what? Catfish and Hush Puppies at the Greenbrier are on the list, so our mouths were watering as we drove to Madison.
We settled into the popular restaurant with Dave, Carolyn, and their friend, Jim, and soon a basket of hot hush puppies was plunked down onto the table. I should have taken a photo, but if I had taken the time to do so, I would have missed out. Those puppies were gone in a hurry!
Let me say a word about hush puppies here. If you don’t know, hush puppies are served all over the south, and have a long history, with many stories of why they are called hush puppies. The stories have one thing in common: these deep fried balls of corn batter were used to hush up the dogs… because the sly Yankees were approaching, or because the dogs were howling for the food the slaves were carrying from the detached kitchen to the main house… you get the picture.
I’ve tasted so many heavy, greasy, hard hush puppies outside the deep south that I couldn’t understand anyone other than a hungry dog would eat them! Frequently served as an included side, I usually took one small nibble and gave up. I finally had my first good hush puppy at PoPo’s Restaurant in Boerne, Texas, then a few more as we got deeper into the south.
To my taste, Alabama has the BEST hush puppies, and those at the Greenbrier must be the pinnacle (followed – at least for now - by the hush puppies we had yesterday in Hollywood, Alabama, shown here). Straight from the fryer, hot and crisp on the outside and tender as a dumpling on the inside… that’s what I’m talking about. It was almost embarrassing how quickly that (free) appetizer disappeared.
Our group met for dinner at 6 pm, and if we weren’t the last to leave, we were darn close. Our conversation covered the wide range of interests of fulltimers and wannabe’s – plus the history of Huntsville, “Rocket City”. Thanks to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (we are planning to visit today), Huntsville has the highest number of Ph.D’s per capita of any city in the U.S. – and if rocket scientist Jim is any indication, that is a good thing. :) We had a great time meeting these new friends.
Yesterday, we headed 40 miles back to the east, to Scottsboro and the Unclaimed Baggage Center. That is for the next post, along with our visit to the rocket center today. If you harbor any notion that Alabama holds few stops of interest along your route, time to think again. :)