Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bolivar, Tennessee: Plantations, Ghost Stories, and Mexican Food.

Now there are a couple of things about Madame Owner that you may need to know since we have now come to a trip involving the Civil War, or as MO's husband likes to refer to it: The War of Northern Aggression. One is that her husband (who also answers to "The General" thanks to his new son-in-law) is a Civil War re-enactor and  is an expert on the Battle of Chickamauga, which he has written a book about, called Generation of Warriors. The second is that early in their marriage MO was a much better sport about visiting every battlefield in the south and a couple in the north and is over it in the most definite way. Any map with blue and red lines and talk of charges and flanks make her eyes glaze over.

But what she does care about, always, are people's stories. Her idea of history isn't what happened to an army but what happened to the people who made up that war machine and those around them. So while reading a plaque in the middle of a field about General So and So outmaneuvering General What's His Name leaves her bored, an antebellum home and stories about the family who lived there, their losses and loves, can perk her up better than a Starbucks hazelnut latte.

The General knows this of course, and so for a recent anniversary he found a lovely bed and breakfast in rural Tennessee that he thought MO would appreciate. Magnolia Manor sits in the little town of Bolivar (most famous for being the home of the state mental health center ) and was built in 1849 by Judge Austin Miller who was a prominent lawyer and banker. The architecture is Georgian and the house is listed on the National Historic Register and has been featured in National Geographic Magazine. It has found new notoriety for being a big hit with ghost hunters, something made clear when one of the owners, Tom, greeted MO and her husband at the door with his "Got Ghosts?" hat on.

Read more about their ghost tours HERE.

After finding their room and freshening up there was wine on the back porch with Tom and his wife Elaine who purchased the house and restored it in the eighties. They love to discuss the history of the house and tell stories of their encounters and the experiences guests have had that are hard to explain. Knowing that Madame's husband is a great lover of Civil War history Tom took him to the basement to show him a medical supply kit with connections to the Ames Plantation. They descended into the basement where the temperature was an easy twenty degrees cooler. MO took some pics just because it seemed like if there was anything spooky in this house it would be down there. She could not stop thinking what a great house this would be for a Halloween party.

The house was occupied during the war (in the south when they say "the war" they mean only the 1860s one) and used as headquarters by four Union Generals: Grant, Logan, Sherman, and McPherson. At dinner one night in the dining room Sherman made the comment that in his opinion all Southern women and children should be exterminated. Mrs. Miller left the room and was found crying on the back porch,  by General Grant who was infuriated and ordered Sherman to apologize, which he did. He was so angered by having to do so that he stormed out of the room and arriving at the bottom of the staircase drew his sword and whacked the bannister. The mark is still evident today. 

The rooms in this house have been lovingly restored by Elaine who spent years on the project. She did her homework researching original paint and wallpaper and collecting period furniture which gives the home a feeling of authenticity.  In the yard is the biggest, oldest magnolia MO had ever seen (likely the oldest in the state since it is recorded as being there when construction on the house was begun in 1844). It looked to MO like something from a child's story book.

Los Portales Bolivar on UrbanspoonFor dinner MO and The General headed to a fairly new Mexican restaurant on Hwy. 64 called Los Portales. The actual address is 1700 W. Market Street but you can see the round building from the highway. It has a fresh and clean atmosphere and a menu with the usual Mexican fare but a few surprises. The General had mango shrimp with braised broccoli and rice. MO had what she always does when the waiter comes and she isn't ready, chicken fajitas. Everything was delicious. The fajitas were some of the best she's ever had but she ate nearly all of the broccoli off The General's plate. From the bar side they could hear live music that was so good that when they finished their meal, they took their margaritas and sat another whole hour listening to the couple who were singing. So if you are in Bolivar on Saturday night there is great food and wonderful live music at Los Polartes!

Update: Since writing this post I've learned the name of the musicians performing that night. Casting Our Pearls is made up of  Jim Zeigler and Vanessa Carrasco. Here's a link to their Facebook page. Check them out!

After an uneventful night (by this I mean no paranormal activities were reported) they awoke the next day and headed downstairs for a breakfast of coffee, juice, and eggs benedict and more conversation with their charming hosts before packing up and heading home. On the way out of town MO wanted a picture of the courthouse and movie theater. She imagined the stories of this town. She thought of it making its way back from reconstruction. She thought of it sending its sons off to WWII. She imagined it decked out for the 4th of July and Christmas. She imagined mothers in pillbox hats and fathers in skinny ties walking to church on chilly Sunday mornings. She could see the adults shaking their heads at cut offs and long hair and rock music. She thought how many other charming little towns like this there are all over the country...the world. She suddenly wanted to visit them all!

Isn't that just like her?

Happy Travels, Y'all!

Click HERE for the Hardeman County Visitor's Guide.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mr. Suitcase at the Movies

I love travel films. I have an especially soft spot for the character of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life because he must have lived for years with a dusty suitcase in his a child he had big travel dreams. Remember this scene?

CLOSE SHOT –– George and Mary at fountain.
GEORGE: Made up your mind yet?
MARY: I’ll take chocolate.
George puts some chocolate ice cream in a dish.
GEORGE: With coconuts?
MARY: I don’t like coconuts.
GEORGE: You don’t like coconuts! Say, brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? Lookit here –
– from Tahiti –– Fiji Islands, the Coral Sea!
He pulls a magazine from his pocket and shows it to her.
MARY: A new magazine! I never saw it before.
GEORGE: Of course you never. Only us explorers can get it. I’ve been nominated for membership in the
National Geographic Society.
He leans down to finish scooping out the ice cream, his deaf ear toward her. She leans over, speaking
CLOSE SHOT –– Mary, whispering.
MARY: Is this the ear you can’t hear on? George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.

Of course, part of Mary's love means taming  George and keeping him from doing all the things he'd planned. So the suitcase that he is so excited to get from his old boss at the drugstore probably only sat on a shelf in the closet. The grown up theme of this film, that sometimes duty and love mean sacrifice, but offer up other rewards in their stead, is probably the reason for its enduring appeal. People can relate. So that movie isn't technically a travel film as much as a non-travel one, but he references his desire to see the world so often throughout it that it can't go unnoticed on my list. But let's move on to movies in which characters actually do GO somewhere.

Here's my list (in no particular order) of course, my list closely resembles Madame's! ;)

Out of Africa (Madame Owner's all time fave in the travel department)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
James Bond in general and Casino Royale in particular
Roman Holiday
National Lampoon's Family  (and European) Vacation
A Passage To India
A Room With a View
North By Northwest
Eat, Pray, Love
The Razor's Edge
Seven Years in Tibet

Got your list ready? Think I left the best one out? Want to rank the one's I've listed, or think some of them ARE rank? Let's hear it!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stacey's Rexall, For Your Nolstaglic Inner Child

If you've ever watched an Andy Hardy movie from the 1940s and longed for the simplicity of those days you can have a taste of it in Foley, Alabama. Stacey's Rexall Drug and Old Tyme Soda Fountain is located amid several antique stores and gift shops and is the perfect place to stop for a trip down Pre-memory-Lane. The actual address is 121 W Laurel Avenue just off Hwy. 59. 

MO and her friends entered what felt like a time warp. Huge double doors, wooden floors, glass cases and the original soda fountain bar. They sat at a table and studied the menu. They went to the counter to order and noticed an old cash register in its original spot. She paid and the cashier rang up her purchase on that register! She had been sure there was a replacement elsewhere and that this one had been left only to lend to the ambiance. She went for her camera. They invited her behind the counter to get a better picture of the prehistoric till. MO was in nostalgia heaven.

My Owner had ordered a hotdog. It was delicious and not on her usual healthy at home menu which caused her to keep saying "Oh my gosh, I'm eating a hotdog!" between bites. It was the "Look Ma, no hands!" of nutrition for her. It was annoying but her friends humored her, thinking of all those "You aren't going to eat that, are you?" comments she sometimes throws out during a meal. Her friend smiled thinking of the earlier stop at Krispy Kreme. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

She washed it down with a real fountain cherry Coke and went back for a second for which she was only charged a quarter. How very satisfying and fun to eat in such a place. If you are interested in visiting other soda fountains, your favorite suitcase has found a website where someone has listed many of them that are still in business. Sodas Fountains Near You can guide you in your search.

Stacey's has been in business since 1929. Airplanes hang from the ceiling and there is a train that makes its way around the top of the walls, which is sure to fascinate children and your traveling inner tyke  as well. The soda fountain is known for its amazing milkshakes (everyone says the key lime pie one is swell!), ice cream and malts. MO couldn't help thinking of the scene in It's a Wonderful Life when George is waiting on Mary and she says "George Bailey I'll love you 'til the day I die." Of course my favorite part of that scene is him lecturing her for ordering plain old chocolate when there are more exotic flavors to order like coconut and he whips out a National Geographic.

Stacey Drugs Old Tyme Soda Fountian on UrbanspoonWell, what do you expect from a suitcase?

More about that movie and other favorite travel flicks next week. They have a lot to do with Madame Owner's sense of adventure. 

Happy travels and happy eating y'all!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chocolate, Anyone?

 My Owner really likes chocolate. When her friend first broached the subject of a trip to the gulf in June she listed all the reasons she couldn't much to do with her daughter's wedding looming on the horizon. But friends know each other's weaknesses...

MO: "A trip a couple of months before the wedding? I don't know..."

Friend: "We'll be staying with Margaret. She works in a chocolate shop."

MO:  "What day did you say we were leaving?"

Owner, Todd Nelson and family
No matter how much time they spent at the beach, or shopping thrift stores and antique shops, there was always the promise of chocolate or frozen coffee. If you are traveling to Gulf Shores, Alabama and you love all things chocolate, don't miss  Chocolate Corner, located at 200 West Fort Morgan. If you are familiar with the area, this is where you turn off Hwy. 59 to head to Fort Morgan or to catch the ferry to Dauphin Island. MO is a big fan of supporting local businesses instead of big corporate chains whether she's at home or traveling. So she's always glad to find delightful local places to eat and shop. Does Walmart really need any more money? She's become even more dedicated to it during this recession. There's something wonderful about being able to put a face to a business venture.
Chocolate Corner on Urbanspoon

You can get ice cream or a fabulous frozen coffee at CC but the main attraction is the chocolate. Do not miss the fudge. What is it about vacation that makes everyone want fudge? At home one of MO's favorite addictions is dark chocolate with sea salt by Lindt. So while she was fortunate to get to taste all the goodies she could stand, the peanut butter/chocolate fudge was her personal favorite. That salty/sweet combination...she's a sucker for that. She loved the chocolate pretzel as well.  It's fun to take some treats home with you from any trip and in this case you can remember your trip by stocking up on chocolate flip flops on a stick (you may even find one that shows your allegiance to your favorite team --especially if you are an Alabama or Auburn fan!) or chocolate turtles and dolphins.
MO's travel companion, Bev. Margaret, and Madame Owner in Chocolate Corner.

If you pop into Chocolate Corner and see Margaret's cheerful face there behind the counter, tell her Madame Owner (aka The Housewife) says hello.

Happy eating and travels, y'all!
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