. So while we can now truthfully say that we have visited Mississippi and Alabama states, it's really not fair to judge either by toilet stops in a Wal-Mart and Burger King respectively. We took the coast road to places with names we recognized; Gulfport, Biloxi, Mobile, and got a sense of the devastation and slow recovery being made in the wake of Katrina. Rebuilding has begun - the Casinos are massive and abundant - though there seemed many signs for shops and hotels that once existed but are now just empty blocks giving no hint of a return. Not in any real hurry, we detoured into the Mobile historic downtown area which looked inviting, but we had already reserved a camping spot in Milton so we continued on into Florida and on to the campground which was pleasantly located alongside the I-10. Matt put up the tent in record time and I made sausages on the barbie (the first meal I have cooked on route, I am embarrassed to say - and for the first time since we took to the road we had to get out the bug spray.
After a restless night in the tent; heat, bugs, demands for water at midnight, potty runs, and a honking train, we set off considerably later than planned. Matt & I skipped breakfast but we thought we'd have no trouble finding somewhere to pick up a coffee. Not a Starbucks in sight and the coffee stand/van that looked enticing was closed, so we headed for Destin which came highly recommended. Still nothing open - it was 10am on a Sunday morning, prime time for a coffee we thought, but zippo
. We'd noticed the day before when passing through the towns requiring reconstruction of virtually all major services and most homes, that there were a disproportionate number of Waffle Houses. And each one we passed looked as ugly and univiting as the last. But here we were in Destin, kids screaming for breakfast and we in the front about to get a 'no-caffeine' headache, so we made a snap decision to try a Waffle House. And here's the thing that still amazes me, 3 days later ... the place was jam-packed, so much so that we couldn't get a table. Everyone in there eating waffles. Baffled, yet curious, we drove to the next Waffle House - and again, Full. This time we waited our turn - and okay, the waffles were decent and there was coffee on hand, but nothing notable about the experience other than we now know the inside is as unappealing as the outside. Florida roads were markedly better than those of LA, MI and AL, but riddled with cop cars. Flashing blue lights tearing along the freeways in both directions made us a little nervous - they are either ultra vigilent in tracking down speedsters or there is a higher than expected crime rate in Florida. After more pit-stops than we could count, we ambled into the Nickelodeon Hotel around 8pm and had three Very Excited kids on our hands. After a late dinner we did something we would only do on vacation ... took the kids swimming until 10pm. Yippeeee, we are in Theme Park Heaven and will remain so until Friday 25th. Nick, Nick, Nickelodeon!
Desperation for a coffee on our way out of town led us to Magazine Street in New Orleans, which turned out to be a delightful way to end our time in the city. An area within the Garden District, the side-streets were lined with antebellum homes and grand old oak trees, and the main streets had an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, giving it a lively and friendly feel.We had tried to find this district on foot earlier in our stay, but we started at the wrong end of town and the kids were resistant to the exercise. We gave up after thinking we could buy some time in an air-conditioned gallery; one of the kids got too close to a very expensive piece of glass artwork so we decided it wasn't worth the pain. But I digress, back to our exit from New Orleans; a couple of blocks later, a turn or two the wrong way (hard to do when you are following specific directions from a GPS but our driver thought the GPS had it wrong), and we were reminded of Louisiana's status as 2nd poorest state in the US. We appreciated the contrast, but were ready to press on knowing we had to cross 3 state lines before dinner