Monday, September 30, 2013

Decatur Alabama - Albany Historic District walk

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Decatur AL 008Sometimes we end up in a park that exceeds expectations. Point Mallard Campground in Decatur Alabama has been one such park. Even the best tools and reviews fail to give the full feel of a place so we are so happy that our lifestyle allows us to have the opportunity to linger in places we especially enjoy. We booked an extra week here simply because we like our site nestled amongst the trees. We are enjoying morning and evening walks along the lake because the lake trail is only steps away from our site. Also the campground is part of a huge community park so we are enjoying watching sporting events and it is very close to the fair sized town of Decatur. Another plus is since we don’t have satellite we are always glad to get really good TV reception, as we do here, especially during college football season...

We tend to always explore our immediate area anytime we arrive at a new location. The town of Decatur has a quaint visitor center within an old historic home. We stopped by to pick up several brochures containing self guided tours of the local historical buildings and neighborhoods. We also noticed Decatur has many inviting parks beckoning us to walk along or to sit and enjoy. One such park we found was the Delano Park Rose Garden which we discovered during one of the walking tours.

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This Rose Garden park was also our starting point for the Albany Historic District neighborhood tour and it was quite a lovely park to stroll around in and admire the flowers and various butterflies. There were lots of beautiful homes and a neat little Episcopal Church. The walk was very interesting as it discussed the transition in architectural styles that occurred in this area in the 1800’s. We saw excellent examples of Victorian homes, Colonial Revival period homes, porticos, turrets and overhanging gables. The walk was well laid out and culminated back at the Rose Garden. Since this walk was a success we plan to revisit the visitor center for other brochures and self guided tours available in the area…

Saturday, September 28, 2013

How to find your perfect RV Campground…

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One of the comments in the last blog asked a question about how we find the parks to stay in. I assume it is because we often find some reasonably priced parks that are a bit off the beaten path. I thought his would be a good opportunity to detail how we go about finding parks we stay in. What I do to locate our next stay is probably much the same as many others use but we all look for different things when selecting parks. To discus our methodology I'll use our current park, Point Mallard Campground, as an example of how we choose our next location.
Our Search Criteria:
  • Distance to the next park needs to be less than 200 miles and preferably under 150
  • Next I consider the parks within 3 miles of the preferred road we are traveling
  • I also look for areas of interest along the route such as neat towns, scenic places to hike and bike or other areas that will provide a means of distraction during our stay
After we have selected a preferred route next up is to search for parks along the road we plan to take bearing in mind we may have more than one route.  Having multiple routes allows maximum flexibility since we rarely make any advanced reservations.  For example when we were leaving Nashville, TN I had three routes chosen to go south and searched all three routes.
Tools Used to Find Parks:
  • Google Maps using a search for campgrounds sometimes yields a bonus campground not found otherwise
A list of all parks considered will yield some being eliminated based on prior knowledge or a dislike of particular type of parks. For example we tend to avoid KOA’s and Jellystone Parks. We find KOA’s too pricey for the usually very small, tight sites and well, Jellystones simply have way too many children thus are very noisy.
Tools Used to Narrow Down Park List to a few select parks:
Decatur AL 001Once I have used the above tools I usually end up with a list of 3-5 parks in various locations along the route. Then I will read about the park on their web page and also research what is nearby to keep us entertained. This may or may not lead to some parks being eliminated but what it does do is puts them in an order from most preferred to least preferred. The last thing I do is perform a Google search with the park name in double quotes and the word blogspot or wordpress. One search for each word, blogspot or wordpress, will often yield blogs written by other travellers who have written about the park illuminating some precious tidbits about the park such as good restaurants, pubs, breweries, parks etc. nearby. In the case of the park we are in now there is a wildlife refuge nearby, extensive Decatur AL 005hike and bike trails, huge community park, and waterfront access within walking distance. Also close by are larger towns with amenities we like such as Crafted Beer, Colleges, Parks, and other things of interest such as this pedal tavern in Nashville...
Now If nothing stands out as a cool place to stay after all the above work I simply expand the range around our preferred route up to 5 miles, then up to ten until I find a gem, for us!
That is how we found this little gem of a park we are in now in Decatur, Alabama… We like this one so much that we have just extended our stay here for an additional week. Hopefully this information helps some of you looking for your gem of a park to stay in.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Goodbye Nashville, TN, Hello Alabama…

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Nashville TN 028Our last few days in Nashville were mostly quiet as we just used the time to relax and catch up on some chores. We did run back downtown just to walk around one last time. It was much less crowded that last day we strolled around town. We had missed a little side street that we caught this time called Printers Alley and looked over the Tennessee Titans Football Stadium a bit more. From there we made our way back to our car to go visit Vanderbilt University.

Sundays are great for visiting universities since the parking is usually much easier to come by and often free as was the parking at Vanderbilt along the street. We had visited this campus before but simply love walking around it as we still think this is one of the more park like campuses in the USA. As we entered the main campus we could hear music. Funny about Nashville as there is live music nearly everywhere and even the worst bands here are often much better than most anywhere else.This was certainly the case with this band so we lingered quite awhile to enjoy many  a llively tune.They really made our campus tour all the more pleasant. After finishing our tour of the campus we decided to make our way over  to Trader Joe’s on the south side of Town.

Nashville TN 044      Nashville TN 027We always enjoy Trader Joe stops but forgot to check to see if wine was sold at this one.  It wasn’t as wines are not allowed to be sold in grocery stores, but beer can (darn it). We still picked up a few other cherished Trader Joe items and on the Nashville TN 026way home decided to take up an invitation to visit a friend I used to work with in College Station. My coworker and friend Gina retired and moved to Nashville. Through Facebook and email she invited us to come by anytime as she would be home all day. We did so and had a really nice time reminiscing and catching up on each other’s lives with Gina. She seemed very happy to be retired and home in Nashville near her family. Part of the reason we have loved this lifestyle is reconnecting with friends along the way. In fact we were also trying to hook up with some RV friends we met in the Rio Grande Valley before leaving on Wednesday but it just isn’t going to work out… so we will agreed we will just have to see them somewhere else further down the road.

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Tuesday morning it was time to leave Nashville and move south to our next destination some 137 miles away in Decatur, Alabama. Our next stop is a city park called Point Mallard Park where we plan to stay up to four days. The drive was uneventful (the way we like it) and when we finally pulled into the park we were able to look at all the sites to pick the one we wanted. We are in a beautifully wooded site right next to the bike trail. Happily it looks like a place we can relax and enjoy for the next several days…

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Day in Nashville, TN…

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Nashville TN 021Thursday night Nashville RV Country RV Park where we are staying held a catered Fried Chicken and Pulled Pork dinner along with live music. We decided to forego the dinner as in those situations we tend to overeat. We did however carry our chairs over to hear the music. The local musician did not bring a band but instead had his wife with him providing backup music much like the ones at most Karaoke nights. Because of this we did not hold out much hope for an enjoyable evening but eventually he won us over even to the point that Sharon had me out there dancing some. We had a few adult beverages with us and under the stars we indeed had a great night…

Nashville TN 020Of course when in Nashville on Friday, we felt we must venture downtown to stroll music row. It is fun walk around and people watch while listening to local music wafting from the varied establishments. Unfortunately for us the day we chose this stroll was the day Taylor Swift’s Red Tour had arrived. Lining two sides of the street alongside Bridgestone Arena were many huge 18 wheelers lined up bumper to bumper with the equipment necessary for this spectacular show. It better be spectacular as the least expensive ticket we could find was $110.00. Needless to say this was not in our budget although I am sure Sharon would have enjoyed it as she is a fan.

Nashville TN 023Because of the show there were many, many extra people downtown mainly between the ages of 17 to 25. Excitement filled the air but on this unusually hot day, it was stifling. As a result we only strolled up and down the street a couple of times people watching. We decided it best to come back another day to walk around town a bit more.

Nashville TN 024Saturday we decided to head over to Centennial Park and take in some of the music that is provided free every Saturday in September. Another plus at Centennial Park is the replica of the Parthenon. This all by itself is a sight worth seeing. We have visited it before on other trips to Nashville but it was still fun to walk around it. Boy was this park busy as not only was there a free music concert ,but there was also a Dog Festival, a Farmer’s Market and at least two Quincenerias. People were everywhere! So after a nice walk and some time spent enjoying the live music we headed over for a few adult beverages at Yazoo Brewery.

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There are several Breweries here in Nashville but my online research suggested this was the best one for the type of beers we liked. We saddled up to the bar and Sharon got her now customary Stout and I had my tradition IPA. We tried a few of their crafted beers and found them to be enjoyable but in our opinion they were not quite the  quality of those we enjoyed on the west coast and in Michigan.

I have finally decided that we will likely be going through Alabama on our necessary Mayo stop in Jacksonville in November so I had better figure out where we will be staying soon as we plan to head outta here on Wednesday….

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A visit to the Nashville TN State Capitol Building…


Nashville TN 001From Audubon State Park in Kentucky, our next stop was Nashville about 160 miles south, a rather lengthy drive for us! We are finding it a bit more difficult to find neat little campgrounds in this part of the country so we made our way down 41 and onto Interstate 24. I usually try to avoid Interstates but we lost a part on our brake-buddy system and are trying to avoid any extreme elevations which Interstates often do. We pulled into a park called Nashville Country RV Resort about 15 minutes north of Nashville in the city of Millersville.

Sporting awards such as Tennessee's ARVC Campground of the Year 2011-2012 and the National ARVC Small Park of the Year 2011-2012 we booked a week hoping to simply relax, enjoy some downtime and plan the rest of our route south for the winter. When we checked in we were invited to a catered dinner and/or free live music held at the campground on the following Thursday evening.

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We backed into our site which looked nice enough even though it was a bit tight.  We purposefully rented the larger site and can’t imagine being in one of the smaller ones. I guess we might feel this way since lately we have been staying in city and state run parks and have forgotten what it is like being in a private park (getting us ready for Florida!). With all the advertised  accolades for this park I must admit we were expecting a better setup here. Not only are the sites quite tight, there is lot of road noise along the busy highway adjacent to the park.  Sharon was happy with having full hookups, the pool and the games the park offered (shuffleboard and cornhole) .

100_4433After setting up our site and relaxing a while we decided to take a drive into Nashville for a visit and to get our bearings once again in this city. Seeing the “Batman Tower” building is a sure sign that downtown Nashville is nearby. We have been here several times before but the last few times we were in Nashville it is was to watch our daughter Katie playing fast pitch softball for her school Campbell University. We still miss all the fun we had following her around her senior year and all the camaraderie we enjoyed with all the softball parents. However, our new friends we have met while RV’ing now seem to have happily filled that void.

Our past visits have been on weekends and we never had the opportunity to tour Nashville's historic capitol building as it is closed on weekends.  So we decided to head straight over to Bicentennial park.  The park is large with many artful tributes to the State of Tennessee.  The park is well used by locals as we saw joggers, walkers, people enjoying an outdoor lunch as well as tourists and kids on class field trips.  The capitol building is perched on a hill overlooking the park so after enjoying the park we trekked up the steep hill to see the capitol.  After passing through security the guard guided us to the information desk where we could choose either a free guided tour or follow a self guided tour utilizing free brochures. 

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imageWe chose the self guided tour so that we could go at our own pace.  The tour was very enjoyable and the restoration was beautiful.  Gaslight chandeliers made in the 1800’s had been carefully updated to electricity retaining the the craftsmanship and charm.  All materials from the building are from Tennessee and so proud were the architect and building commissioner that they both, per their wishes, are entombed in the building!  One of our favorite anecdotes described on the tour was of a slavery argument between government officials that erupted in gunfire which dislodged a big chunk from the handrail in the main stairway.  Tennessee's Quite a colorful history this building offered and we were very glad we took this weekday to enjoy the park and Tennessee's impressive and beautiful Capitol Building.

Sharon even snapped a photo of me (at left) where I was arguing to the Tennessee Senate to pass a bill granting free fishing licenses to all full time RV’ers….

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Back at the RV park we will take time to relax and plan some revisits to a few favorite spots here in Nashville.  The week will surely pass quickly so I had better start planning the route south…

Friday, September 20, 2013

Henderson, Kentucky and Audubon State Park…

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Evansville IN and Henderson KY 018What a nice campground John James Audubon State Park turned out to be. The Audubon Museum and Visitor Center that are here in the park are very picturesque especially with the backdrop of autumn leaves just beginning to turn. We spent quite some time just soaking in the view and watching the light illuminate the buildings and the grounds. Tearing ourselves away we decided to resume our plan to hike to Wilderness Lake. There are many large and ancient hardwood trees shading the path full of birds gathering for their great migration. Titmice, Robins and Tanagers were flitting about. We paused several times upon our hike to watch the activities of these birds.

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Evansville IN and Henderson KY 009The trail began as a paved pathway and turned into a rocky dirt path with some hilly elevation changes. Near the lake we saw a leopard frog and a fuzzy caterpillar we  just had to admire. Thankfully he posed quite nicely for a photo as did a butterfly or two. A note of caution about fuzzy caterpillars is that many of them will possess some stinging spines hidden just under this so called fur… Some of these urticating hairs carry quite a bit of a toxin that can provide for a lot of discomfort if you get “stung” by them… I know this from past experience!

We pretty much had the trail all to ourselves so it was a leisurely and very enjoyable hike with near perfect weather for walking. The unspoiled lake was quiet and serene. Turtles were everywhere sunning on logs looking quite content. Probably as content as we feel when reclining in our anti-gravity chairs back at camp!

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As we looped back to the visitor center where the car was parked we took a side trail near a lake where we found a Live Bait machine… never saw one of these before!!! We also discovered a small challenge course near the parking lot so we got on some of the elements and tried our skills out as Sharon has never been on one of these courses. But alas we needed to refuel with lunch for our planned afternoon adventure in the small nearby town of Henderson Kentucky.

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Henderson has a nice historical walk in their city brochure highlighting some beautiful homes built in the 1800’s In addition there are sculptured replicas of Audubon prints that on occasion have a fun extra hidden critter sculpted into each piece. This scavenger hunt intrigued us so we mapped a route to combine these two activities. The historic neighborhoods and the sculptures provided us a fun diversion. Although we had to really scour the sculptures we found items such as hidden rhinoceros beetle, snake, ,turtle, fossils, bat and a frog.

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The entire walk encompassed about 15 city blocks so we got a real feel for the town and met a few friendly townspeople. Oddly most of the eateries and bars were closed which we found odd for a Tuesday but we could tell that this town seems very much alive and well. One of our favorite houses was famous for being part one of Sharon’s favorite movies, A League of their Own starring Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie McDonald. Interestingly our Newton friends told us a friend of theirs had helped with an inside remodel of the home. It was really beautiful as were all of the historic homes in this neighborhood.

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Back at the State Park we enjoyed more bird watching and conversations with our friendly Kentucky neighbor who wanted to share more sights he wanted us to see in his beloved state. We are so glad we found this campground gem as we really enjoyed not only the park but also nearby Evansville Indiana across the Ohio river and Henderson Kentucky this side of the river. However it is time to move on down the road… stop was Nashville where we are now staying at the Country RV Resort just north of the city…

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Evansville, Indiana…

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Evansville, IN 008We left Kimmel Park at Vincennes, Indiana just in time as they had acquired a massive water leak the evening prior to our departure and had to turn off the water to campers. We planned a short trip to our next stop in Henderson, Kentucky just across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana. The John James Audubon State Park is located just off the highway but looked to be a really nice retreat nonetheless. We drove around the camp loop a couple of times trying to locate a site to accommodate our size. We settled on site number 44 but never were able to get power due to a defective plug. Luckily it was pretty easy to pull out and back in next door into number 43 where we had no power problem at all.

After setting up we decided to visit Evansville. The ornate and massive Courthouse building was our first stop and we chose to park so we could walk all the way around to admire it from every angle. This courthouse was a completely different style than the one we had seen while visiting Vincennes. The one in Vincennes was also very impressive but had more of a French flair to it.

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Adjacent to the Courthouse was an impressive World War II memorial and around the corner we noticed an old building resembling a castle. We were amused to read that it was once the Sheriff’s residence and the jailhouse! It had an underground tunnel extending over to the courthouse. Maybe that was an easier way to transport prisoners to trial and back. Before heading back to the car we strolled over to the Tropicana Casino, one of the riverboat casinos, but it was way too smoky to stay and donate some change.

Sharon wanted to drive by the University of Evansville and their athletic facilities. It was fun to see the students milling around between classes. The tree lined neighborhood near the campus had many beautiful homes so we were glad to meander along enjoying the sights. As it was nearing 5:00 pm we used our smartphones and discovered a nearby brewery so we decided to try Tin Man Brewery in the old Warehouse District.

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The brewery is only a couple of years old but seems to have become a local favorite. Several very friendly patrons joined us around the bar. Interestingly our bartender was from Ireland and her parents also enjoy RV’ing so we had a nice chat. When we closed out we had a nice surprise upon seeing our beers were half priced on Mondays! We must be living right!

On the way back we stopped by and the a park and strolled along a walkway by the Ohio river where we came upon an cool sculpture. The Four Freedoms Monument depicted the goals of President F.D. Roosevelt. During his 1941 State of the Union address he proposed four fundamental freedoms that people Evansville, IN 018everywhere should have: Freedom of speech,Freedom of worship,Freedom from want and Freedom from fear… Can’t argue with that!

Back at camp nestled in the trees we heard from our friends in Newton, Illinois after Sharon posted some pictures on Facebook from our day in town. They laughed that we had left them three days ago yet we were only a little over two hours away. We laughed too as this is what we do. We like shorter travel days so we have part of the day left to explore our new location. We have one more day here so tomorrow we plan to hike some park trails in the morning then explore Henderson, Kentucky in the afternoon.

Note: A little behind on the blogs, but will catch up soon, as we are moving to the Nashville area today