Brett, Heather, Kayla, and Tyson

Brett, Heather, Kayla, and Tyson
Brett, Heather, Kayla, and Tyson

Sunday, August 17, 2014

That Time We Headed North to Travel to the South

So we just got back from a wonderful road trip. It was a success with only a few minor bumps along the way. I remember when Brett and I were dating and we joked about how we were each other's favorite traveling buddy. That remains true today. I love traveling with Brett. He planned the whole trip, down to fun and interesting stops, alternate routes, hotels, where to eat, (all with my input and agreement of course) and he did a great job! I felt like I was just along for the ride and thoroughly enjoyed myself!

We traveled from deep South Texas to the "Deep South", which is much further north of where we live. Brett has been working on his Meteorology degree online through Mississippi State University for the past 3 years and just finished his last semester. In preparation for his big final exam, they held a seminar/review that was basically the culmination of the program. When we started looking into travel costs, etc., we decided it wouldn't be much more expensive if we all went and made some detours along the way for our summer family vacation. Neither of us had been to the South before.

Getting read to hit the road! Kayla was excited!
We left Wednesday, August 6 around 6:30 AM. Kayla is a great little traveler, thankfully. We first stopped in Houston, where we met up with Brett's old co-worker and fellow weather forecaster, Ido! We had a great time visiting and catching up with her at lunch. We then headed to the Houston Temple where we took turns doing a session, while the other one stayed out with Kayla. 

Exploring the temple grounds

We're grateful for Eternal Families!
The next day, we hit up IKEA and then met up with a friend from Brett's homeward, Carrie Jensen. She just moved to Houston and Brett hadn't seen her in years and they had fun catching up. She has a 10 month old that Kayla loved playing with. They were instant friends! Carrie made us a yummy lunch and it was great getting to know her. 

Oh the joys a box can hold for babies!

We then hit the road again and headed to Lafayette, LA. Again, Kayla was a great little traveler. We did bring lots of books, snacks, and the tablet with a couple of movies loaded onto it, but she enjoyed playing peek-a-boo under her blankie, singing and dancing with the iPod, and pointing at all the things she could see out the window. 

Kayla was a little worried about the 'cars' coming so fast down the freeway. 

In Lafayette, we stayed with Brett's former coworker from Channel 4, Katie. Katie was a good friend of ours in the valley and was so kind to let us crash at her adorable brand new house. (They just moved in). She too had a little girl that Kayla loved playing with, and who's toys Kayla really loved! We had a great time visiting with Katie and Lee and little Harper. They definitely showed us some southern hospitality. :) They also gave us some great tips for places to visit/see in and on our way to New Orleans. 

We thought it was funny with the kids, that one of them was always on the offense. If one wanted to give hugs and play, the other shied away, or vice versa. They weren't ever really mutually interested in each other. Just a funny observation. 

Harper showing  Kayla how her 4-wheeler works
A goodbye hug in the morning. 
Katie told us about an old plantation house nearby that was on some beautiful grounds. It belonged to Joseph Jefferson, a famous actor during the mid to late 1800s. We loved wandering around the lush property and especially loved the giant wrap-around porch with rocking chairs. I think we'd both love a big porch someday. 

Showing off my quickly growing 30 week belly

Checking out the buildings. 

Kayla wasn't sure what to think of these trees - there's nothing like this in the Valley.

Kayla especially loved all the 'bubbles' or fountains
Our next stop was New Orleans. We were both really excited to see this unique city. We dropped off our car at our hotel and checked in so we could wander the French Quarter. When we got to the hotel, I wondered if Brett had forgotten about the budget, but thanks to Hotwire, we just got a really awesome and beautiful hotel right downtown for a really good deal. It was very swanky. :)

First of all, the French Quarter itself, is beautiful and very historically interesting looking. That being said, it's not stroller friendly at all. It was also really hot and humid, so also not terribly pregnant lady friendly. There are a LOT of bars and a lot of interesting people, some that made me feel a little uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just becoming uptight in my old age. We wandered around admiring the buildings and eating good food. 

The square in front of the cathedral was filled with artists and palm readers. 

We had lunch at K Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and it was really yummy! I loved my shrimp po-boy sandwich and Brett had fried chicken. 

We then got some delicious beignettes at Cafe Du Monde. They were similar to funnel cakes, but shaped like scones. They were LOADED with powdered sugar and I actually thought they would have been better with from fruit topping. They were delicious, nonetheless. 

Leftover powdered sugar........


We are still looking for Brett.

We wandered into a shop to try a snowball, which is basically a snowcone and found both Kayla and Heather on cokes, so of course we bought them. Too bad they weren't diet coke. Brett enjoyed both of them for us. :)

St Louis Cathedral 

Jackson Square in front of the Cathedral

The mighty Mississippi River!

Masquerade, anyone?

After a few hours walking around the French Quarter, we were pretty much done. I kind of felt that it was reminiscent of Las Vegas in the sense that it has a lot of bars and people getting drunk, etc. Vegas may actually be classier since its newer and more spacious. We headed back to our hotel where Kayla took a much needed nap while I propped my feet up and Brett headed out to find a RedBox and some dinner. We couldn't drive since our car was in some pricey Valet parking with our hotel. Parking downtown is pretty ridiculous. We had a quiet, restful night and geared up for the next day. 

We decided to head to the Garden District, which was full of beautiful turn-of-the-century homes and rode the street car for awhile. This was much more up our alley in the interest department and much more family friendly. We didn't take the stroller this time and Kayla LOVED being free to wander around and explore. We stopped in at the Lafayette Cemetery, which was really fascinating and a little creepy. 

Some of these tombs had a lot of people buried in them and weren't that big. They were also very old.  Apparently you can't dig down 6 feet in New Orleans because its below sea level, although we're not sure how they build the skyscrappers.

In our wanderings, we found this building which is my favorite color. :)

Riding the street car. Kayla loved it!

For lunch, we ate at the Camellia Grill. We LOVED this place! The ambiance was amazing. There is a only a  bar, no booths or tables, and the waiters interact with everyone while they eat. They put on somewhat of a show and it was a lot of fun. The food was amazing! We also chatted with the people sitting on either side of us, all of which were exceptionally friendly. It was such a different yet great way to have a meal!

Sharing our delicious chocolate freeze. Kayla couldn't get enough of the 'yummy'!


After lunch, we hit the road and headed to Mississippi. The drive out of New Orleans was beautiful and we were driving over water for most of it. We couldn't help but feel some jealousy with all the beautiful, green landscape we were surrounded by. That's one thing we really miss living in the Valley. There aren't many trees besides palm trees and it's not very green. This whole trip was filled with lush landscapes that made for beautiful drives. 
Finally made it to Mississippi! 

We stopped in Vicksburg, MS for our Saturday night stay. We first hit up the Coca Cola Factory, which wasn't too special, but when Kayla saw the Santa Claus in the coke advertising, she kept saying 'Grandpa' which was pretty funny. 

We took Kayla to a local splash park to get some energy out and she had a blast and even made some friends. They also had a really great playground that she loved playing on. Vicksburg has a huge mural wall that you can see behind Kayla that stretches all along the river. Its a cute little town!

For dinner, we went to Walnut Hills Restaurant and had some southern cooking. They too had a great porch that we enjoyed for awhile. 

After dinner, we stopped at Walmart for a few things. Oh my word, was that an interesting stop! If you have ever seen, I think they might get a lot of their pictures from this location. When we walked out to the car, we noticed our rear passenger tire was low. By then, all the tire places were closed for the weekend, so we filled it up and hoped it would stay that way. I felt stupid because I kept having a feeling to check the tires before we left on the trip and ignored it. Lesson learned, I guess.

The next morning, we woke up early (like we did every day since sleeping in the same room as a toddler) and Brett checked the tire, which was flat again. He put on the spare, which was luckily full-sized and we drove that for the day. 

We attended church at a local ward in Vicksburg. I do love how the church is the same, no matter where you go. It's such a familiar environment regardless of where you are. One memorable thing happened though. They were actually getting a new bishopric that day and the bishop being released has a special-needs son. When the Stake President asked for support from the ward for the new Bishop, that son yelled out, "NO!" It was shocking but no one else reacted. The Stake Pres handled it well and when his mother got up to bear her testimony, she explained that he'd been watching old conference tapes from the 70's where people did a lot of that, apparently. She also assured the congregation that he would sustain the new Bishop and continue as a contributing member of the ward. :) 

After church, we headed to the Vicksburg Battlefield. It was a really cool place and a huge monument. The cemetery there is the 2nd largest national cemetery, second only to Arlington. It was interesting learning in more detail the Siege of Vicksburg and how it was so pivotal to the North winning the Civil War. 

The grounds are beautiful, hilly, and green and we drove all around checking out all the different historical sites. Each state involved in the battle has their own monument in the park and they were all beautiful! We had a picnic along the way. It was a great way to spend our Sunday afternoon. 

Don't worry, she didn't drink her coke.
But she's sure cute holding it!

Texas Monument
We then hit the road again and headed northeast to Starkville, home of Mississippi State University! This was our final and ultimate destination for the roadtrip. We got into town on Sunday evening and met up with a few of Brett's classmates for a meet and greet at a local hotel. We then headed back to our hotel and got settled into our new 'home' for 3 days. 

On Monday morning, we dropped Brett off for his seminar and Kayla and I headed to the local tire store. They discovered that we had not one, but two flat tires! The front passenger tire had a nail in it and we hadn't noticed yet. Good thing it wasn't so flat that it caused any damage. We were really blessed that they were able to repair both tires. But what are they odds that we'd get two flats in the same weekend!?

We got the car all fixed up and then headed back to the hotel for naps! Kayla and I got some much needed rest and I was able to get her back on somewhat of a normal nap/sleep schedule before the long drive home. 

We also had some mommy/daughter fun time down at the hotel pool. I had taken our pool at home for granted, but now I really appreciate how toddler friendly it is. We had fun at the hotel, but there was no area shallow enough for Kayla to enjoy and explore, whereas our pool in our neighborhood is perfect for her. It made me grateful! 

We picked Brett up and decided to pick up some MSU gear from the bookstore to show off our collegiate pride and then take some photos in front of the sign. Right after taking the photos below, Brett put Kayla down to wander in the grass while I snapped one of just him. Suddenly she started screaming horribly. We looked down to see her being swarmed with fire ants!!!

For those of you lucky enough not to live in the south with these horrible creatures, they literally attack, sting really hard, and leave blister-like welts all over that itch and burn. I had a bunch bite me once right after we moved here and I was miserable! We dropped everything, picked up Kayla and started frantically brushing the ants off her poor feet. They were all over in her sandals so we ripped her shoes off and then ran to the car. We drove straight to the pharmacy where we could get her some cream and wash her feet with soap and water. We also bought her socks, which she was sporting the rest of the trip, to prevent her from scratching or picking at the many bites on both her little ankles. 

She was actually quite tough and hasn't seemed to be too bothered but ever since, anytime her feet are exposed, she points and says, "Ooooh, owie!" I think that's mostly from our reaction and the appearance since her legs still look pretty awful as they are healing. 

On Tuesday, it was more classes, hanging out at the hotel, and exploring campus. Kayla loved all the puppies everywhere, since the MSU mascot is the Bulldog. :)

Wednesday, Brett only had a half-day of classes, so we had lunch and hit the road. We were planning on driving to Baton Rouge. In our research, we discovered this scenic road that goes from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. It was only going to add 30 minutes to our drive to get on this road, so we decided to do it. The Natchez Trace, as the road is called, didn't disappoint! It was such a beautiful area from the minute we got onto the road until we reached Natchez. The entire road is a national park and is pretty well preserved. Its an old migration route for animals and Native Americans would follow them. They had lots of historical and natural spots to stop and get out. I almost wished we would have brought and tent and camped that last night! I really miss being out in nature more. And BONUS it wasn't even hot!

This was the best part of the drive for sure. Here's just a few of our beautiful photos from the road and a few stops along the way. 

Kayla found a butterfly!

We arrived in Baton Rouge that evening and went to our hotel. Now, Brett uses Hotwire for most of our hotel stays and had booked a 3 star hotel that was a great price but once we got the name (they don't tell you until after booking) and looked it up, we were a little leery of what it might be like. When we got to the hotel, and went into our room, I was totally grossed out. The bed and comforter looked at least 20 years old, the room reeked of urine, there were stains on all the furniture, and the blanket underneath the comforter had cigarette burn marks. (Sorry, we didn't take any pictures.) It was definitely not a 3 star hotel. We decided we could handle it, but the smell kept getting worse. Brett decided to ask for another room and the front desk man mentioned that our room had been the home of a one-legged man for awhile. Uh, ok. 

After that, we decided to try our luck with Hotwire to get a refund, which we didn't bank on since their website says 'no refunds.' Thankfully, they were kind enough to help us out. After Brett explained the situation to the rep, she put him on hold and he ran to check out the other room the guy had given us. It reeked of smoke. The Hotwire rep then came back on the line. She had been looking up the hotel on other websites and said she understood what we were saying. :) 

They made an exception and gave us a refund and booked us a different hotel nearby that was actually 3 stars and had a good approval rating from guests. We told the front desk we weren't staying, which he didn't seem too bummed about and headed to the new hotel. It was brand new and a really nice hotel! I was so relieved we had decided not to stay at the other place. We laughed about it quite a bit. The other hotel had offered free breakfast, and I couldn't imagine what that must have involved. I shudder at the thought of staying there! And now, I realize how much of a snob I must be, but when you pay for something, you expect to get what you pay for, right? :) 

We drove the rest of the way home on Thursday. We stopped off in Jennings, LA at a place where you can hold baby alligators for free. It was pretty cool, although Kayla was a little rough poking them. When we told her to be soft, she kind of freaked out and wouldn't touch them again. Maybe then she realized it was actually alive, haha!

We bought a little souvenir for Baby Boy at the alligator place. 
All alligators in this place are orphans that are rescued. 

The park had lots of ducks, so we let Kayla chase them around
for awhile to get some wiggles out. 
We then continued on our journey home. We had lunch in Houston and then headed to the San Juacinto monument. It commemorates the battle that led to Texas' Independence. The monument itself resembles the Washington Monument but is supposedly taller. It's a pretty cool park, but smack dab in the middle of several oil refineries so it's not terribly noticeable from the freeway. They also had a cool battle ship there to check out. 

Welcome to Texas center!

Kayla looks like she's controlling the elements!

For being in the car so much over an eight day period, Kayla was awesome! We are really blessed to have such a good traveler and hope this little guy will follow his big sister's lead. 

We were really happy to get home, even though the house was 89 degrees inside! (We turned off the AC while we were gone and it took a long time to get back to normal.) Kayla seemed so happy to be back in her familiar home. She ran right into her room, grabbed a headband and started dancing and running around the house happily. I was relieved to be sleeping in our nice, comfy bed. I also REALLY appreciate that Brett, like me, likes to unpack immediately. An hour after we got home, the laundry was started, everything was put away, and we were getting ready for bed. 

It was a wonderful trip and I loved being able to see so much more of our beautiful country! I love having an adventurous husband who loves to explore like I do. The world is so big and there's so much to enjoy. Road trips are definitely better when there's time to stop and enjoy all the cool, lesser known experiences along the way. Now we can return back to normal life and Brett gets to study for the next two weeks before he takes his big exam. One last hurdle to becoming a meteorologist! I'm so proud of how hard he works and that he does so much to ensure we have all we need. 

It's definitely a good life!