Thursday, July 21, 2011

Our Trip to Florida!

As I have written about in a few recent articles, Matt and I recently returned from a trip to Florida. We had a great time (well until the ride home!), so I wanted to do a little write up about some of the things we enjoyed the most and give you a little rundown of what we did.

We left Milwaukee in a rental car on Sunday. We got a little bit of a late start, so we didn't end up on the road until around 4 or 5 pm. Our plan for the drive was Milwaukee-Chicago-Indianapolis-Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta-Orlando. We made the drive in pretty good time.

We stopped a couple times on the way down for food and attractions:

-For dinner, we stopped in the Chicago area at one of our recent favorite destinations: Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside, IL. Chef Shangri-La is a great place, it is a Cantonese restaurant in a polynesian/tiki atmosphere. They offer a full array of delicious meal options and tropical drinks.

Matt and I each got a dinner option, Matt chose the Moo Shu Beef (I think) which he said was sooo delicious, and I chose the Tahitian Mango Passion Chicken, a dish that had a nice fruit tinge from the mango. Matt also ordered a drink, however I skipped it (sad) because I was driving! If you're ever in the area, at least stop in here for a drink, you won't be disappointed!


-We reached Nashville just in time for breakfast! We were double excited that we ended up there at that point in time, since the Pancake Pantry is located there!! If you love pancakes at all (you know I love them), you need to stop at this place at some point.

We visited a few years ago, when I had these delicious chocolate pancakes topped with a chocolate ganache syrup. They were incredible and tasted like someone made me a birthday cake from pancakes. They were probably the best pancakes I ever had.

Our second visit did not disappoint. I got cinnamon-sugar pancakes and Matt got sweet potato pancakes (I think). These came with a delicious cinnamon cream syrup. The syrup was so good I really wish we had the recipe! It was not overly sweet but had a nice cinnamon flavor.


-Another stop was made in Chattanooga to check out the Moon Pie General Store. They had a lot of really cool things at this store, including any variety of Moon Pie you could wish for, and bottled sodas. They also have a full array of vintage themed items, and also any sort of Moon Pie memorabilia you seek.

It's not a bad place to stop, but keep these things in mind... the shop is really narrow with a display table down the center of it, which makes getting around the store really, really difficult. It was fairly crowded when we visited and after about 5 minutes, I needed to leave. We each ended up getting a pie, and they were really tasty! I got the double decker lemon, super delicious!


-In Atlanta, we decided to make a stop at the World of Coca Cola. Apparently they offer a soda tasting, so we decided to check it out. We were short on time, but really interested in re-sampling some of the sodas we had in Japan. Let me just say that we would gladly pay the $16 fee to get into the World of Coca Cola, but in order to get to the soda you have to watch a half hour film, go through 2 museums, and who knows what else. Which, if we had a lot of time at our dispense, would be totally fine!
So we decided to leave and continue on our journey. The parking guys were really nice, and since we decided not to go to the museum, they gave us a free pass out of the structure! Score!

-We stopped in at Lane Southern Orchards on our way to Orlando. They offer a wonderful shop full of fresh produce and souvenirs. They also have a nice little cafe where you can get a full array of foods. We stopped in at the cafe for the famous peach cobbler. They top the piping hot cobbler with your choice of ice cream for a mere dollar more. Matt had his cobbler topped with fresh butter pecan ice cream, and I had mine topped with peach ice cream. So good after a long drive!! We also picked up a large bag of fresh pecans, and some gifts for our parents.


We finally ended up Orlando, pulling in pretty late, around midnight or one on Monday. A word of warning if you decide to drive in Orlando, they have crazy mad tolls!!! We had no idea, and I think we sorta screwed up since we probably overpayed the tolls... but they give you a card and when you get off the tollway you pay a TON of tolls. It's worse than Chicago!! There is another freeway you can take, but it takes a lot more time. So I guess you have to think in terms of time vs. money.

Our first day in Florida, we stopped at (Matt's choice) Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. This place actually surprised me, in that the drinks were made well and that the food was actually really good. We started with the conch fritters, which were really good! Kinda like little hushpuppies dotted with hints of seafood. I also had a guava margarita (so good) and a pulled pork sandwich with guava BBQ sauce! Matt had the special, which was a sort of fish (I think Mahi Mahi).

After lunch, we took some time to explore the shops at Universal City Walk. A good thing to note if you're headed there, if you stop for lunch and keep your time within 2 hours, you can get your valet ticket validated prior to 2pm for free parking! All you pay is the valet tip. This was a nice surprise as we were prepared to pay $15 to park.

Matt needed to take care of some rental car stuff, so he headed out to do that. When he returned, he took me to a great record shop, Rock and Roll Heaven. If I had unlimited time and money, I would need to head here again. They have a huge stock of 45 records, full length vinyl, and also a great selection of CDs. I picked up a 45 I'd been looking for, and also a UK import of some girl groups. Score!

We also headed up to Daytona Beach to meet up with some friends who live in Florida (hi Vanessa!). We stopped at some of the shops and stuff there, and it was kind of crazy to see how past its hayday Daytona Beach is. They did have a nice, newer area with shopping and restaurants and also a large outdoor bandshell. We found a nice spot to have some appetizers and drinks there called Mai Tai. (Please pardon the bizarro website for that place!!) The food and drinks were really surprisingly good.

The next stop on our Florida tour was to head down to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area to get Matt a Cuban sandwich and to get me to the Mai Kai. All I will say about the Mai Kai is it is completely awesome. So awesome that it is getting its own blog post soon.

We stopped at Miami Beach for lunch, and ended up at a nice little cafe serving Brazilian food called Cypo Cafe. The food was extremely delicious, and we also tried something new to us - cashew juice! An interesting flavor, a little sweet and a tad sour all at once. I had a fantastic garlic chicken served with beans and rice. Prices here were reasonable and the food tasted homemade. You can tell that the owner of this shop and his employees are enthusiastic. I hope this place gets load of business because it is the real deal.

We headed down to the beach after lunch, where we got to take a dip in the beautiful warm Florida waters. We saw a sting ray leap out of the water a couple times, which was really pretty cool!! It was nice and really relaxing. After the beach, we headed to find a Cuban sandwich. We found it at a corner restaurant, open air, in Little Havana. Matt enjoyed the sandwich while we each enjoyed a "mojito" which was pretty much margarita mix with rum and a sprig of mint. Odd but oddly refreshing. After this, we headed over to the Mai Kai, which was everything I expected and more!!

Sadly, our trip had to come to an end. We began the drive home on Thursday, with the best intentions to stop and try to visit Matt's brother and some friends in Missouri. We hit a patch of heavy rain about 3 hours south of Atlanta, and the car fishtailed on the freeway, ending up with the rental in the ditch. It was such a bummer end to a great trip, but we were okay so it could have been way way worse.

We decided, at 4am, while in a seedy Knights Inn motel, that the cheapest option, aside from driving home (something we did not want to do after being shaken up from putting the car in the ditch!), was to take the Greyhound bus. Please never take the Greyhound farther than 5 hours. It is incredibly awful and I cannot believe people find this mode of transportation acceptable.

The best part of the ride was from Nashville or Louisville to Indianapolis (I think...I was pretty delirious at the time.). Our driver was absolutely hilarious and attempted to entertain us at various points on the drive. He also went above and beyond to make sure we got on the right bus (there was some confusion about our connection from Indianapolis to Chicago).

We finally got home, on schedule, Saturday afternoon at 2:30pm. About an hour before the rental car should have been back. Needless to say, we won't be taking a road trip again for a while! (Although we did have a great time!)

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