Although I am a tad late in posting this travel list check, I want to say that this was the best trip we took last year. I think that can be attributed to the fact that we spent a lot of time with family I hadn’t seen in decades. These people are valued family members on my dad’s side of the family that moved away many years ago. Needless to say, quite some time passed before seeing my grandfather, uncle, his wife and kids, my aunts, cousins, and even some new family members.
Our first pit stop on the map brought us to “middle-of-nowhere” north Florida to see my dad and pick up my brother. We then proceeded to pack up ourselves, the baby, my younger brother, and headed out of the state way too early the next morning.
After a much needed pre-daylight, coffee stop in the middle of the State capitol somewhere, we were on our way to New Orleans, Louisiana. I had never visited the French Quarters and I was excited to experience such a historic place.
Our stroll through the city entailed walking below the gorgeous double-floored buildings. Each one was laced with vine balconies that housed many hanging plants spilling from their pots. We stopped near Jackson Square to eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde where we left with satisfaction and beards of powdered sugar. We only made it so far down the street before ending up at a classic NOLA restaurant. The environment could not have been more perfect. We indulged in all the New Orleans staples under a covered pavilion in the October breeze. The dishes were crawfish, jambalaya, and gumbo. Our infant even ate some although we advised against it; we practically fought her to keep the Crystal hot sauce bottle out of her mouth. There’s no stopping her. We sat there as the jazz band played outside and filled the air with the sweet sound of trumpets.
We wrapped up our time in the French Quarters by browsing monuments, staying out of trouble on Bourbon Street, and getting snaked by tourist trappers. One day I’ll learn. In the meantime I’ll wear my $20 New Orleans hat with pride. (This has happened to me in three major cities now. A selfie with Elvis Presley that cost me $5 in New York City, a picture with a parrot down in the Keys, and now this.)
We spent the rest of the day in the cramped car making our way to Arkansas. Our last stop of the night was to be in Shirley. It’s a small town that I don’t expect many to have ever heard of. We finally made it past the “Welcome to Shirley” sign after driving through dark and winding mountain roads. We were reunited with the family members that were still awake past midnight (AKA just my aunt). To our surprise, it was freezing! There was no time to think about how cold it was because we were pooped. The next morning we were welcomed with loving arms of all the family I hadn’t seen in years. My grandfather, my uncle and his family, my cousins, aunts, and just about everyone who I have been missing for three years (and some ten years!) They all got to meet our princess for the first time also. My smaller cousins loved running around and playing with her. It was just nice spending time with family because I was informed some were sick and not doing well. It was comforting seeing for myself that everyone was simply trucking along.
My grandpa took us down to the Marina where we saw an overwhelming amount of carp fish gathering for food. The scenery in all of Arkansas was to die for. We visited for Christmas when I was about 10 years old but younger me took advantage of the picturesque views. Sugarloaf Mountain rose in the background among the oranges, yellows, and reds of fall. Then he took us to see some rock formations on our family’s property and I stopped to take a picture of nearly every red leaf. It’s like we went through a portal from summer to fall by just crossing a few state lines. Tiny pinecones, red leaves, and moss-covered rocks spiked my interest on the walk to the rocks and a cabin the family built together. It was gorgeous from what we could see on the outside. It sat perfectly on the ridge of a serene lake. There was not a single soul to be found out there besides us.
We somehow made it back up the off-road journey off the property and off to see more family. After spending some much-needed quality time together, we ventured past deer leaping into the road and past overlooks, to Mountain View. That’s where we had calzones in a dark, hip restaurant illuminated by a crescent moon light fixture. The waiter was eccentric and the company was irreplaceable. The vibe was simply good all around.
Our final day spent in Arkansas was mostly spent with our family. Early in the morning, we split up and jetted off on an intimate family adventure though. We drove until we lost all signal on our GPS and cell phones. We were in search of a waterfall and potentially some swimming. Turns out, the water was frigid and in no way ready for dipping toes into. We spontaneously pulled over onto an overlook where the most gorgeous mountains fell out of the sky. The trees were sprinkled in the brightest of fall colors and the sky was so blue. Rotary Ann Overlook was the name. We were there among a group of bikers that were enjoying the scenic highway just as much as we were. After assuming we got lost, we finally made it to Falling Water Falls. The color of the water was unlike any shade of blue I had ever seen before. We sat on the edge of the mild cliff simply watching the water fall. We skipped over puddles lined with fallen leaves and serenity. Although we ran out of time, we hopped back in the car and went back to familiar grounds.
We slurped spaghetti and laughed until the sun went down surrounded by all the very best. Our family joked, cooed at the baby, and simply enjoyed our company before we had to pack up and say our goodbyes again. We only stayed for a couple of days but they made us feel as if we never left. To feel so loved and so appreciated after so long in between sent my heart soaring. We almost didn’t want to leave.
Our final stop of the trip before returning home brought us to Memphis. That translates to “we only stopped here so we could visit the home of a late hunk, a hunk of burning love”. Graceville was a must-see since Memphis was only a couple of hours away. We walked through elegant rooms of stained glass and mirrored walls in remembrance of the King himself. All of Elvis’ belongings still sat in its eerie placements as if he never left. His albums and awards lined walls in separate buildings. His wardrobes draped still over mannequins and sparkled in just the right light. It really makes you miss someone you have never met sometimes. It is almost intimate if you take away the cameras and tourists. The end of the tour brought us to where he and his family lay. A calm stillness surrounded the fountain and placements where their full names read. It’s a beautiful story, you know. They are family and they are all together. It’s no wonder Lilo was obsessed with the man. Or really anyone else for that matter.