And just like that, Florida is behind me. I had a wonderful 6 week stay in the Sunshine State and really learned a lot about it. It is a huge state, so I had to plan out my journey and make some decisions early on, and the biggest decision I made was to cut out the big cities. While I did stop in Orlando and Miami to catch up with people, I generally spent my time in smaller towns and state and national parks. This gave me an interesting look at the state and a new perspective and appreciation for all it has to offer. While I plan on writing more of my thoughts on Florida this coming week, suffice it to say I enjoyed myself. I spent the last few days in Florida in the panhandle, and then made a mad dash across Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana. It’s almost time for Mardi Gras, and it is great to be back in New Orleans.
After we parted ways last week, I did indeed head on to Destin. I’ve always liked Destin with it’s fine white sand beaches and beautiful warm blue water. We used to escape to Destin from New Orleans when we needed an escape. It’s not the cheapest place to be, but there are some good restaurants, plenty of amenities and beautiful sunset views. I didn’t do much in Destin other than enjoy some long walks along the beach, put my toes in the water and do some writing for my podcast, but I sure enjoyed the two days I was there.
When I finally tore myself away from Destin, I headed west along the coast and through the panhandle. I did make one excellent stop worth mentioning at a little seafood shack called Scooter’s Fish House in Navarre. This was exactly the kind of place I’m always on the lookout for. Counter service, picnic tables, excellent prices and a fresh seafood selection that changes with what’s available. I ordered some mullet, as I’ve had a hankering for some and haven’t been able to snag any, and got it with fried cabbage and baked beans. The whole meal was delicious from beginning to end. If you’re ever doing the Panhandle run, you should definitely make a quick detour to Scooter’s.
From thee, I headed down to Navarre Beach, which was also beautiful, and then drove along the Gulf and through Gulf Islands National Seashore. It was nice to see this wild stretch of dunes and sea oats between big towns. I do love a good wild beach. Coming into Pensacola Beach, I went out to the pier to enjoy the sunset and do some writing. After the sun went down, I headed into The Dock to finish up the story I was working on and grab a quick beer. This was a great, friendly beachfront bar and grill with a divey atmosphere and a nice outdoor seating area. I was only there for an hour or so, but it seems like the kind of place I’ll be back to.
I started Saturday in the library as I was trying to finish up a bunch of stuff before I took off from Florida on Sunday. I headed back out to the beach and tucked in to write another story. When I got back to my van, there was a note on my windshield which said simply “Vanlife Party Tonight?”. Tony, who had left the note, had parked his van-home right next to mine, and when he saw me reading the note, he came and introduced himself. He also introduced his friend Bruce. They both lived in Pensacola and were off for the day, so they thought they’d come to the beach. When they saw my van, they thought they’d see if I wanted to join them. I did.
We spent the rest of the day chatting, bar hopping, shooting some pool and shooting the breeze. They were both really nice guys who were also trying their best to not get caught up in the “real world” too much. We ended the day back in the parking lot, playing some music and hanging out. It was a really relaxed and enjoyable day, and it was great to have some company for my last day and night in Florida.
Sunday I headed downtown in Pensacola for a little look around. I loved some of the old architecture I found there, and there was a good vibe to the place. I will definitely need to explore Pensacola more at some point in the future. But for now, it was time to head out and start making my way towards Louisiana.
I skirted through the far southern corners of Alabama and Mississippi and got into Louisiana in a little over two hours. I made a nice long stop at the Welcome Center to pick up maps and brochures and reading material on Louisiana, and then headed on to Slidel. Slidel had a Mardi Gras parade going on that day, so i stopped in to see a part of that. It wasn’t on the scale of a New Orleans parade, but it was still a lot of fun. There were floats and bands and dance teams and old car clubs and everyone was in good spirits for the season. The parade route was packed with people out enjoying the beautiful sunny weather and the joy of the season.
I left before the parade ended because I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic, and headed on to the Big Easy. New Orleans is definitely a second home to me, and I have spent more time there than almost anywhere else in my life. I had spent a lot of time in the city while I worked as a tour guide, but ended up moving there and staying in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I helped reopen the public school system, and taught math and science to at Francis Gregory Elementary School for two years. It was a tough time in the life of the city, but also an amazing time to be there. I was sad to leave and am always happy to be back.
I spent Sunday night and Monday with my friend Shanel who I had worked with when I lived on St. Thomas. Shanel and I did our work orientation for the Ritz-Carlton together and have been friends ever since. While we worked in different departments at the hotel, we would see each other around the property or hanging out in town. I didn’t realize that she went on to live there for six years before finally being driven out by Hurricane Irma, It was great to see her and spend time with her and her two adorable dogs.
Today is Tuesday, and I’m going to finish this post up a day early and publish it today. This evening, my folks are coming into town so I’m going to be busy with them this week. We’re going to be in and out of New Orleans, checking out some of the Mardi Gras festivities here and out in Acadiana. They really fell in love with New Orleans when I lived here, and haven’t been back since, so we are all really looking forward to the next few days.
So that’s my plan for the rest of the week. I’m going to hang out with my folks and try and catch up with a few friends here and there as well. Next week I’m going to try and get out and do a little exploring south of here, and then come back for Mardi Gras weekend. Then I’m going to go see what I can see of the rest of Louisana. I’m excited for it. I did a fair bit of traveling around when I lived here, but not nearly as much as I should have. I’m really looking forward to getting to the north of the state and seeing what that’s all about. It should be fascinating.
That’s it for me this week. It’s rainy and gloomy today so it’s a good day to get some work done. Tomorrow isn’t looking much better. Hopefully we’ll get some sun back by the weekend. I hope you all have a great week out there wherever you are, and I’ll catch you right back here this time next week!