Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Whirwind Trip Down South: Part Two

Hello! As promised, here's part two of our whirlwind trip down south.

Day 4: Time to start heading back north. We were only going as far as Knoxville, TN on this day, so we weren't in a rush to check out of our hotel in Sandy Springs, Ga. Consequently, we ate an early lunch at Zoe's Kitchen, which was in a plaza across the street. My husband had tried this chain and its Mediterranean-style menu during a previous business trip to the Atlanta area and had liked it. I enjoyed my chicken pita sandwich today; the chicken was good quality and the flavoring was good too. I hope that this chain, whose locations are mostly southern at the time, will make its way north. It seems to be a relatively fast and healthy meal stop. 

Our supposedly short travel up to Knoxville was lengthened by several traffic slowdowns: construction zones, a minor traffic accident - we seemed to run into our share of delays. We didn't get to our hotel until past 3:30. And the warm sun of yesterday had turned into cooler temps and occasional rain. Thus, even though there looked to be many areas of interest in the region, we did nothing but go out to dinner at the nearby Smoky Mountain Brewery. The food was solid; not fantastic, but my husband was happy with the microbrewery options.

It was fun to try a new-to-us hotel, Hilton's Home2 extended-stay lodging. The desk clerk told us the hotel had only been open six months - to an old-house dweller like myself, new buildings are always a novelty! The Home2 brand is big on being modern and eco-friendly. For example, I didn't see the little bottles of shampoo and little bars of soap near the bathroom sink that one usually sees in hotels. Instead, Home2 mounted shampoo and shower gel dispensers inside the shower stall - to save on packaging, they said. 

I liked the modern styling of our room, like the open shelving  in the kitchen. Usually hotel kitchen cabinetry is drab at best, so I didn't miss that ugliness at all. 

The breakfast buffet had interesting choices like breakfast sandwiches, waffle batter with some whole grain in it, and fun toppings for yogurt and cereals. All in all, a cool brand and I'd stay at a Home2 again. 

Day 5: We continued on northbound I-75, but eventually came to a detour made necessary by a rock slide a few weeks back. We'd known of this detour - it had even been on the national news - so we were prepared when the exit for US 25W loomed, not far from the TN/KY border.

This road was far more winding than the interstate would have been, of course, but the hills and streams made it very scenic. The multitude of trees were still bare, but I imagine it'd be a very pretty drive come fall. 

It was sobering, though, to pass by houses in various states of disrepair, far more substandard homes than I am used to seeing. I have no solutions for improving the lot of the folks living in those residences, but returned home with more appreciation for my own house and its lesser imperfections.

After about 30 miles of detour, we got back on I-75, with the cute, folksy town of Berea, KY on our radar. Ate a decent lunch at the Main Street Cafe, and enjoyed walking around town. Unfortunately, Berea College's excellent farm store was closed this day (a Monday), so I "settled" for poking around in the various artsy/crafty shops and an antique mall.

Lexington isn't far from Berea, and that's where we spent the night. I'm sure there are many outstanding eateries in Lexington, but we've only dined in one place in three trips now: the buffet bar at Good Foods food co-op. With a choice of hot entrees and sides, salad bar and soups, there's something for everyone. I happily selected egg salad, a roasted zucchini/summer squash blend, kale salad and a cucumber/tomato salad. It was all delicious, though in my mind nothing there has yet to top the mouth-watering vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls I got there two years ago

Day 5: The highlight of our trip was going to the incomparable Jungle Jim's grocery store in suburban Cincinnati (Fairfield, OH). 

This is what greeted us near the entrance to Jungle Jim's:

A "representative" from Campbell's Soup. This is one of several zany displays throughout the store, certainly one of many signs that this is no ordinary grocery store. The sheer size of the business, and the United Nations approach to its inventory, are more signs. 

I could have taken picture after picture at Jungle Jim's, but the truth is, I'm usually so busy shopping there that I never have the time to play photographer! I have to hustle as it is because my husband is usually trying to hurry me along. He doesn't always mean to do so, it's just that he's not keen on spending more than, say, a half hour in any retail establishment. A half hour? I feel a half day wouldn't be long enough to explore the wonders of Jungle Jim's. Nevertheless, I stocked up on some produce (prices usually pretty good in that department) and some ingredients. 

Lunch was at Taqueria Mercado, conveniently located on the same road (Dixie Hwy) - stellar tacos and great house-made salsas too. 

We continued on our way to our final stop for the night, a Homewood Suites hotel in Ft. Wayne, IN. To get there, my husband drove mostly on two-lane roads. We had long passed the hills of the Southeast, but Indiana countryside can be pretty too, and we passed through a few small towns. Sometimes that's a nice change from the interstate. The road paralleled the Cardinal Greenways, a rail-trail path, much of the way. That rail-trail made me wish I had my bike with me!

Since Homewood Suites offer light meals during weekday dinner hours, we decided to just partake of that. A vaguely Oriental noodle/chicken dish and good tossed salad was enough food for us.

Day 6: Homeward bound! When I'd found out our last hotel stay would be at Ft. Wayne, I asked if we could stop at E&S Sales in Shipshewana, IN on our way back home and my husband agreed. E&S Sales sounds like it would be the blandest, more boring place in the world to shop, but in reality it's an Amish grocery store - and Amish grocery stores are almost as much fun to shop in as Jungle Jim's! 

I used to go to E&S Sales a few times a year, but stopped going when the price of gas got so high. With it being over two hours one way from my house, I couldn't really say I was saving a lot of money by going there. Gas is cheaper now, but I'd gotten out of the habit of making the trip. Hence, the kind-of-on-the-way-back stop today. 

Big Amish grocery stores are known for their bulk foods, although I don't mean the "scoop it out yourself" bulk - rather, the staff packages up the bulk foods. There's a wide range of edibles, from junk foods like candies and snack mixes to healthy stuff like whole grains. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to shop today. My husband had insisted on buying an excellent, Cincinnati-made ice cream (the Homemade brand)at Jungle Jim's, so we couldn't linger long lest his purchase melted. There's only so much a cooler and a couple of ice packs can do. So I scurried up and down the aisles, scooping up some baking supplies, whole grains and spices. But there was a lot more I could have bought! 

There's a lot of shopping to be done in Shipshewana - some of it is touristy, but like E&S Sales, many of the shops cater to the local Amish population as well. It's a fun place, but due to that ice cream, we had to be on our way. 

Lunch was at a Qdoba in the Kalamazoo area, and as we continued to drive toward home, we kept an eye on the ever-darkening skies ahead and the steadily dropping temperatures. When we left Ft. Wayne, it was sunny and in the mid 50's. By the time we'd reached home, it was raining and in the upper 30's. Still, we'd dodged a bullet: initially, snow had been in the forecast for today, but that form of precipitation stayed well to our north, and we just had rain instead. 

We were grateful for that - after our pleasant, whirlwind trip to Southern springtime, the last thing we wanted to come home to was accumulating snow! 

It may have seemed that all we did on our trip was drive from Point A to Point B and go out to eat, and some days were like that. But it was still a nice getaway.           


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