I am sitting here in my home office, taking a break from campaigning, to look at pictures from our recent visit to the Gulf Coast. The weatherman is predicting we will be surrounded by ice and snow in the St. Louis region and that the entire state will see February go out in a strong show of the fluffy stuff.
It is with the impending freeze in mind that I sip my morning latte and invite you to go with me to the Gulf Shores.
My girls and I tagged along for my husband's week long higher education conference down in Alabama. We normally do not go with him for long trips, but could not pass this one up.
The girls were given their assignments by their respective teachers, the younger daughter by far had the funniest - she was the first in her class to travel and use the travel journal. We went through five states so she had a lot to learn and share. The older daughter was determined to finish her homework on the twelve hour drive - she succeeded.
We eagerly packed our bags and still in a midwest mindset, had to search through drawers for swim suits and couldn't find last year's flip flops or straw hats. I didn't have the entire week planned out except taking in Mardi Gras festivities and just relaxing...and secretly hoping the girls would not want to go swimming, I didn't want to redo their locs.
I wholeheartedly recommend a trip down to the Gulf Shores and not during Spring Break when the area known as Floribama is descended upon by every high school and college coed from ten states. No, I recommend going down during Mardi Gras season, it is a fun-filled and easy pace, really giving you a chance to experience the region.
We arrived late on Wednesday night, my husband did most of the driving and after the girls finished their homework, the in-van-movies passed the hours on the highway. The longest drive was in the State of Mississippi and one thing I can say about it - DARK!
My husband and I are Hilton customers - he has been staying with them for over 30 years and we have never had a bad room, stay with what works. We also always get the bed and breakfast so that is a tip on saving a little money when traveling, especially with kids.
Our room did not disappoint. The pictures only give a glimpse of what was our view. The night we arrived I stepped out on the balcony and while it was pitch black in front of me, the swoosh of the tide and the sway of the palm trees welcomed me to Alabama.
After a good night's sleep and sending my husband off for the first day of his conference, the girls and I set out to adventure. We greeted the mornign with the most majestic sight. Our day was decided then and there - THE BEACH!
While we were planning out our day, we met a young woman on the balcony just to the left corner of our's, she was looking at the bay at the same time I was. I am a very social person so we struck up a conversation. Turns out she was a Missourian, there for her wedding! How about that, she and her soon-to-be-husband were getting married down on the courtyard (American ceremony) the next morning and then down on the beach (Hindu ceremony) the next evening. She invited us to come dance with them. Her father was driving in from Columbia, her maid-of-honor was from downstate Illinois, and she and her future husband were planning to make their home in Olathe, Kansas. It truly is a small world!
Our new neighbor for the remainder of the week invited the girls and I to tag along with her to go souvenier shopping. The girls thought that was funny that we were going with "perfect strangers" but that it felt "just right" since we were "down south." We went beach shopping because the bride's German exchange student did not have a swim suit. So off we went to the many beach shops in Orange Beach, Alabama! My daughter's had a blast and since high noon was very hot, we walked out with hats, flip flops, and sand castle building materials.
The pool did not disappoint for the girls - it was very hot and very blue. I just sat there watching them swim and was secretly wishing my three sons could be here.
After the girls swam and had enough of the sun, we changed clothes to head out to the beach.
Perdido Bay was breathtaking. Our hotel was right there, just a little walk and we were stepping in the whitest sand and looking at the most amazing horizon. My soul had found her home and I truly did not want to leave.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking up and down the shoreline, retrieving lost flip-flops that were captured by the waves, trying to keep hat on our heads when the evening wind came, and then making a beeline back to the hotel before sunset at 5pm.
The next day we decided we needed to see what else was there to explore so we rode with my husband up to Point Clear, Alabama. His conference was at the Grand Hotel. Just stop my heart right there, the view was indescribable. The grounds were like taking Forest Park and putting them in the middle of this majestic setting with the pier, fishing boats lolling by, condo-like hotel rooms right on the beach, swings facing the bay, and the nicest people you ever want to meet. I did not want to go home.
We drove up the Alabama Scenic Highway to the little park on the bay and stopped to take pictures of the dolphin statute. While we were there, a local runner told us we "just have to go up to Fair Hope and visit the Page & Pallette," in the sweetest southern Alabama accent you ever wanted to hear. She informed us that a lot of people came to visit and just never left, I kept thinking that I would be just such a person!
The girls and I ditched our plan to drive over to Pensacola, Florida and took the ten minute drive to Fair Hope, Alabama. We were not disappointed!
Page and Palette is a bibliophile's dream! There were authors sitting outside whose books were on the shelf inside. There were three stores whose doors all lead into each other - a little boutique, the bookstore, an American Doll clothing store, and Latte Da - the local coffee shop. I had found another slice of heaven!
The store owner was there and the ladies who work there are like me, people who actually read real books and advocate for the local book store. I purchased Wash and can not wait to read it! The girls also picked out their books and while I was sipping a caramel latte next door, they were upstairs in the reading lounge looking at the used book section.
A lady in the bookstore told me I could not leave without visiting Panini Pete - a local eatery on the French Quarter. She also told me I just had to come back that night for their Mardi Gras Parade.
We took her advice and after walking through downtown, those of us who live in Kirkwood who appreciate local shops will definitely appreciate Fair Hope! There was a toy store and a Native American art store and everywhere we went was Mardi Gras decorations! The girls and I made our favorite purchases and even picked up one of my husband's birthday gifts.
My youngest daughter is a fashionista and could not pass up going to the Teen Resale store. A shopper's paradise of clothes that were neatly presented and waiting for the tween girl to sashay along the wooden floors and peer at herself in the full-length mirrors. We walked out with three bags of delightful finds and prided ourself on only spending $40, not bad for a budget.
Definitely hungry by now and no longer full from our made-to-order breakfast, we ventured over to Panini Pete on the French Quarter. It was yummy! The french fries were a crowd favorite.
Saying goodbye to Fair Hope, we picked up my husband and headed back to Orange Beach in time one of the many Mardi Gras parades that were going to be up and down the shore that weekend.
Flanked by a lot of seniors, my youngest daughter was definitely the entertainment as she kept telling the kwewe's going by to "throw some beads to the little kid!" She got beads, stuffed animals, and more moon pies than she could eat!
Our last day in Orange Beach was Saturday so after we dropped my husband off to finish up his presentations, the girls and I were determined to get to Florida. Orange Peach is right on the boarder, but since were were up at Point Clear, we had to take the scenic highway, about an hour, to Florida. It was a Gumbo cookoff - think a mini Greentree - right on the coastline.
Our nation's young men and women in the Navy and Marines served as hosts and hostesses, directing traffic, pointing out parking, and giving out informaiton on where to go and what to do. Pensacola is definitely a military town. We stayed on Perdido Key for about an hour and since my hungry little ones are allergic to seafood, we had to leave and I couldn't taste the gumbo.
My youngest daughter's travel journal was filling up with lots of adventures and things like tasting homemade candies at Punta Clara Kitchen back in Point Clear, Alabama and sea shell hunting early in the morning along the bay. My oldest daughter and her advocacy for environmentalist had an opportunity to see first hand the effects of the oil spill on a few parts of the shore. She was passionate about what we should do to keep the water clean and had me take pictures for her upcoming science project.
The Gulf Coast is one of our country's treasures. It stretches along Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The people are warm and friendly, the food was wonderful, the service was magnificient. It is worth preserving and worth going again.
We could not visit Alabama without stopping through Montgomery and visiting our college student. It was definitely colder three hours north of the Gulf and we had to dig out the jackets to prepare for the last day's drive back to Missouri. All the way back up north, the girls and I kept thinking, we have to go back, we have to go back, we have to go back.
The Gulf Coast captured our heart and on this cold, cold Wednesday when even my morning latte has not warmed me up, it is capturing my memory as well.