Favorites Of The Past 9 Weeks

Total Days On the Road: 298
States Visited: 41
Canadian Provinces: 8
Countries by plane: 3
Miles Driven: 31,000
PB & J Sandwiches Eaten: 100 each (approximately)

Many people have asked us “What’s your favorite…”

That question gives us pause. We haven’t really been in that mode, assessing things and ranking them. I don’t say that from a high mountaintop of enlightenment, possessed with an evolved non-human ability to experience the world with mindful non-judgment. Hell, we are still debating which peanut butter brand is better, and which state has been “the friendliest,” and which state not-so-much.*

Sometimes the towns that we think are going to be “the best” end up being “just fine” and the restaurants that Google says “you can’t miss” we wish we had driven past and avoided. Our policy of “ask a local” has been the best way to find hidden gems that we would have probably otherwise missed, hidden in the towns that we had never heard of before. The moments that we didn’t see coming have turned out to be the most memorable, and the paths that we have taken without planning have led to the greatest adventures. We’ve tried to be open and accepting of each new experience, grateful for the novelty and novelty’s ability to slow down the passing of time, harvesting something–even just a moment of learning or growth–before moving on.

But they say opinions are like butts. Everyone sits on one.

And so, in the spirit of judgment, here is our attempt at a “Best Of” list from the past 9 weeks on the road…

Favorite Town: Provincetown, Massachusetts

The dunes of Provincetown are spectacular. And the piano bar where we belted out show tunes for several hours non-stop was heaven for our inner 12 year-old selves.
Fun Fact: Provincetown is where “they”—the Pilgrims—stopped first, before Plymouth Rock. They hung around for a few weeks before judging the ground as too sandy and the vibe too fabulous. So they crossed the bay to Plymouth to get all puritan up in there.

Favorite Wildlife Preserve: Chincoteague, Virginia

Wild ponies. They can’t keep me away.
Ahhhh, the Atlantic.

Favorite Rock: Newfoundland

A 7-hour ferry from Nova Scotia followed by an 11 hour drive around the island brought us to St. John’s–Newfoundland’s largest city. And then, a 16-hour ferry ride took us back from the rock. The journey was part of the experience.
Here I am, not-conquering. Just rambling.
If you look carefully, you can see the 500,000 puffins, stopped here to mate for awhile. It’s here where my disdain for seagulls really began—they eat the cute puffins for breakfast. Fun Fact: Puffins are not “the strongest” of flyers or landers, making them easy for the asshole seagulls to eat.

Favorite Museum: The Barnes Collection (Philadelphia, PA)

After seeing “The Art Of The Steal” we filled our dining room with old prints from flea markets, displayed in a manner that was inspired by Dr. Barnes. And then we got to see his collection in Philly. Never saw Rodins at the Rose Bowl Flea.

Favorite Harbor Town: Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a gem. We’ve spent most of the late summer and fall in maritime locations; Nova Scotia, Cape Cod, New England in general. But Copenhagen holds a special place in our hearts.

Favorite Recent Meal:Italian Sub at Capriotti’s (Wilmington, DE)

Look at this thing. The hot peppers were clutch. And the brilliant “meat barrier” kept the fresh bread dry and delicious.

Favorite Skill Based Activity: Spoon carving class (Gloucester, MA)

Ted doing some clamping.
Finished spoons. And it only took us 7 hours. So.

Favorite Spectator Activity: Tottenham Hotspurs v. Chelsea (Wembley, UK)

Our first premiere league game and my first time saying premiere league or knowing what that means. Come to find out, Soccer is really fun to watch. I mean Football.

Favorite Hike: Underhill State Park (Burlington, VT)

Vermont. At the peak of fall colors. We felt like we were in some 1,000 piece puzzle or a poster that motivates you with a lesson about change or something like that.
The top of fall.
We had a check out clerk in Key West ask us if we were “good with the trees” before giving us a paper bag. After our time in Vermont, we can honestly say that we are.

Favorite Autumnal Activity: Apple Picking (Brattleboro, VT)

It’s possible we were more excited about the use of the wagon and the tiny horse, but the Honey Crisp apples were pretty great too.

Favorite Cocktail: The Creole

We’ve been searching for the final ingredient—Amer Picon—since discovering this drink in February in New Orleans. This French Amaro is virtually impossible to find in all of North America. But a shout out to the one random shop in London that knew what we were talking about—you helped our cocktail dreams come true. Yes, it’s boozy. But damn it’s good:
1/2 oz: Benedictine
1/2 oz: Punt e Mes
1/2 oz: Amer Picon
1 1/2 oz: Rye
Stir in ice (57 times according to cocktail Guru Chris Hannah from NOLA’s French 75)

The reality of van life prevents constant nature-bonding and soul-gazing by roaring campfires. Sometimes you just gotta watch TV.

Favorite Show Currently Viewing: Schitt’s Creek
Favorite Show Recently Viewed: Great British Baking Show
Favorite Movie Recently Viewed: Tale Of Tales

Many people are surprised to hear that we still like to talk to one another. And they are floored to learn that we tend to do so while driving, rather than listening to music or podcasts. But when we do feel aurally inspired—usually by a particular landscape or memory flooding back—we fire up Spotify and curate a playlist, often yelling requests fueled by 80’s nostalgia.

Favorite Current Road Music: Waylon Jennings, Phillip Glass (seriously, those two are all we listen to)
Favorite Current Podcast: Crime Town (Providence, RI)

With the holidaze fast approaching, we anticipate some visits with family and friends, decorating the van with festive good cheer, and wrapping up our current adventure early next year…

Love from the road,
Matt, Ted and Julius The Van

 

*We won’t publish those opinions here. Ask us in private and we’ll let you know.

A Walk In Juarez

Who knew that we would spend time in El Paso? If you did, why didn’t you tell us? Also, why didn’t we know that you could just stroll over to Juarez, Mexico for a lunch of tacos and margaritas?

The bar is called The Kentucky Club, and it opened in 192o, just in time to lure thirsty Americans stuck in prohibition over the border. It’s here where “they say” (who the hell are they?) that the margarita was invented. No matter your margarita-lore beliefs, the margaritas (plural) were some of the best we’ve had.

The delicious tacos were served as a side dish to the margaritas on an amazing bar. It was hand carved in France and shipped to Juarez in 1934.

Fun Fact: In 2010 Juarez was the murder capital of the world. It’s not anymore, so that’s nice. The government made a pretty big sweep of the main street that is just over the border, literally tearing down every bar and bordello where the cartels might carouse. Now, there are cell phone stores, a few knick knack shacks, and other ordinary non-murdery businesses.

The Kentucky Club seems to be one of the few bars to survive the sweep. Well, that and the Holywood club (see below).

Just being real casual crossing the border line.
The Kentucky Club. Very cool vibe. Also, if you look closely, you’ll see a trough at the bottom of the bar. This is where men who didn’t want to give up their space at the bar used to relieve themselves, pee-wise. I’m serious.

 

Here is the margarita that was super delicious. There are some tacos next to it.
So.

I Love You Louisiana: Adieu, Adieu

We joined this gator on the beach to watch the sunset—our last sunset in Louisiana…

Hey alligator brother from our cosmic mother… thank you! And thank you Louisiana for your beauty and hospitality. You’ve entertained me and welcomed me and embraced me. You’ve confused me and encouraged me and inspired me. You’re beautifully warm, wonderfully weird, and naturally engaging. We will be back no doubt, maybe even to lay down some roots. But for now I’ll just take these stickers. And my gumbo gut.

Y’all are in my heart. Alright, alright.

Laugh-EE-ET (plus gators and shrimp)

Lafayette (Laugh-EE-ET) Louisiana is in the heart of Cajun country, and our visit there helped to solidify our love for Louisiana. A town of not much size, but jam packed with huge helpings of friendly people and shrimp. Shrimp: I’ve eaten three times my weight in them, three times.

Upon first arrival in Lafayette, I was greeted in French by a lovely woman at the threshold of the Mouton House Inn, and quickly handed a drink made from tea-infused bitters and Bourbon (Burr-Bonne). And so yeah, that hooked me.

And then there were the Po-Boys (shrimp) at Pop’s Po-Boys, and the kind boy that told us what to order, and where to go.

ROAD WISDOM: Ask a local their favorite places to go, and then go there immediately. We’ve found the greatest gems through this method.

Allen, our swamp guide, made sure to take us to his favorite spot in the swamp to meet his lady friend named Stella. Stella is an alligator that is big. Also, she has 17 babies that are small. And oddly cute.

SWAMP WISDOM: A swamp is a flooded forest. A bayou is a slow-moving body of water.

Cajun culture is rich and fascinating and lovely. A trip to recreated Vermillionville (the original name of Lafayette) took us back to 1755 when the Acadians in exile moved there after being kicked out of Canada (Acadia/Nova Scotia) by the punk-ass British of the time who saw the Acadians as a threat, especially because they refused to swear allegiance to the British Government.

French is still spoken here, and the Cajuns continue to celebrate life through food and music and dance… despite the long history of attempts to suppress and erase their culture by the Americans.

A cajun bartender taught us a word: fache (fah-shay) which means annoyed or pissed off.

EX: People that try to suppress others, especially because they are afraid or feel threatened by people that are different, really makes me fache.

Here is Stella. Zoom in to see her babies chilling on the log with her. Her mouth is open cuz she’s telling us to not get closer. So we didn’t.
Here is a wider view of the swamp. Those are Cypress Trees. The needles will grow back soon, indicating the arrival of Spring on the swamp. Also, don’t worry: Spanish Moss is good for the trees (helps keep in moisture) and hasn’t killed them.
Oh look! SHRIMP! YAAAAY!
And here is Ted looking at Shrimp. We had a shrimp boil at our campsite and done et em in the van. LESSON: Don’t put Boudin in your boil: it just breaks apart. But it’s still delicious.

Like Accordions? Check Out This Video Of Cajun Music.

Dropping Into The Dank: NOLA

There is a profound and pervasive vibe here: experienced through all of the senses, and expressed as both euphoric and stank. The smell of chicory coffee and fresh baked pastries might be followed by a smell cloud of natural gas, or pee. Studying the branches of a stately and elegant Magnolia tree or the intricate French Colonial wrought iron work of a brightly colored home might be interrupted by a spill into an enormous pot hole, or or a trip over an exposed sewer pipe being birthed from the swamp.

Yes, this beautiful town is built on a swamp. And yes, most of the city is below sea level: creating a bowl that traps energy and lets it fester and blossom and decay. The city is haunted by the ghosts of slave traders and free people of color, lords and ladies (titles both inherited and bought) criminals and common folk, Creole and Cajun.

Katrina flooded the city, but she did not wash away the spirit or spirits of this place. She was brutal and destructive, stealing the homes and lives of many, and yet New Orleans thrives. From the perspective of a visitor, it seems that New Orleanians have evolved into a community that has learned to face adversity and challenge (be it potholes or poverty) with a strength and positive forward movement that is as dynamic as the parades that they cherish.

Attending a Second Line (community parades that cannot truly be described, only experienced) we were welcomed into the celebration with smiles and nods and love that could be felt in the music and the dance. Entering the rituals of this city (of which there are many) with confident kindness will most often be mirrored back, or at the very least silently respected.

There are very few social rules here, but the following are crucial if you wish to weave yourself into the fabric of the city:

Be kind.
Say hello.
Have fun.

We are honored to return here. Thank you New Orleans.

Short Video Of A Snippet Of A Second Line

Life is celebrated here in many ways–food just happens to be the tastiest. Here is the sampler plate at our favorite joint: Coops.
Matt at Krewe Delusion which followed Krewe de Vieux. A great way to kick off the season here. And yes, those are vegetables on my head.
Ted has found a very clever way to harness the bead magnet power of babies and children. It allowed him to get some pretty great throws, including some rare and precious glass beads.
Fuzzy group shot. No idea who these people are, but they were our best friends in the moment.

MO-BEEL and Mardi Gras

Just so you know, there is a correct way to pronounce the name of this city, and the locals take it very seriously. We’ve been practicing it for like 4 days: MO-BEEL (with the accent on the second syllable).

You should also know that much to the chagrin of New Orleanians, this is where the celebration of Mardi Gras as we know it in the New World first appeared. The French declared Mobile as the capital of the French colony of Louisiana in 1702, and by 1703 masked balls began to appear.

But it wasn’t until New Years Eve 1830 when a drunk dude named Michael Kraft raided a hardware store in Mobile with his friends and paraded down the streets of Mobile banging a cowbell. Over the next several years, they  formed the first mystic society (or Krewe) called the Cowbellion de Rakin society, and eventually switched their parade-times-fun to Fat Tuesday. And thus, Mardi Gras as we know it today was born.

Mardi Gras has been celebrated here in Mobile every year except during the two World Wars, and was shut down completely during the Civil War. But in 1868, a local hero named Joseph Cain defied the rules of “no public gatherings” set forth by the occupying Union forces, and revived the parades of Mardi Gras, which have been happening ever since.

We were here before most of the Mardi Gras festivities began, but had the pleasure of attending a “people’s parade” (no Krewes, only ordinary citizens) on Dauphin (pronounced DAH-FIN)  Island, just outside of Mobile.

As we head to New Orleans on Tuesday, stay tuned for how Mardi Gras first appeared there, one of our most beloved cities.

Mardi Gras figures appear all over the city.
Ted–The King of Mardi Gras!
Here we are with our new bestie Tootie. She helped us to get the best beads and other throws at the parade on Dauphin Island.
Ted caught and ate his first Moon Pie–these are very popular and delicious throws up here.
I was honored to be given this throw, my first of the Carnival season, by a member of the Wild Mauvilians–the Krewe associated with the legend and hero Joe Cain. I might not take it off until after Mardi Gras.
PREVIEW: Here is where I shopped for our Mardi Gras decorations for our place in New Orleans. Stay tuned.

The Mermaids Of Weeki Wachee

Since 1947, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee have called to carloads and busloads of curious travelers, beckoning the masses to experience mermaid magic for at least 23 minutes. The mermaid who introduced the show said that over the years such celebrities as Elvis and Don Knotts have followed the siren call. So.

I’ve wanted to go for at least 4 years, after reading about the mermaids on some phone screen somewhere. Or perhaps they came to me in a dream. Either way: dream fulfilled.

Watch Weeki Wachee Video

 

My mermaid and me.
Ta-Da! Ted’s a mermaid!
Wait. I’m a Manatee?
Also, here is an alligator
And some Flamingos.

The 5 Tenets Of Our Journey

Just to reiterate: we are NOT on vacation. This is living.

L I V I N

So, while riding our bikes (Rage and Rampage) on Key West, Ted and I identified and solidified the important milestones that we want to accomplish EACH DAY. These can be categorized into the following 5 tenets:

1) Read
*Books, articles etc. (Buzz Feed doesn’t count, yo.)

2) Exercise
*A daily average of at least 10,000 steps. 6 miles would be ideal. Ooof. This will be tough.

3) Learn
*Fun facts, theories, conspiracies, historical tidbits etc. The knowledge can be found anywhere (Except on Dumbphones). Examples: Museums, plaques, local history on menus, oral history from locals, cereal boxes etc.

4) Work
*At least 2 hours a day of writing in some form.

5) Fun
*It just depends you guys. But you know fun.

Ted work, me drive.

 

We’re Talking About Miami Now (deep Waiting For Guffman cut)

Well, hell. Miami is pretty cool: so specific in terms of vibe and architecture and culture.

After having touched the water of the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Day, it was a helluva thing to touch the water of the Atlantic today.

After getting jacked up on Cuban coffee, Joe’s Stone Crab did not disappoint.

Driving Julius in Miami rush hour was no problemo, and we squeezed (barely) into the tiny parking lot of our hotel on South Beach (not easy to stealth camp there). The next morning, I woke up early and in a semi-lucid anxiety-driven state went to the window to check on Julius—he was totally parked in.

Shit shit shit! 

Worry was the accompaniment to my OJ and Frosted Flakes.

How the hell are we going to get out of here?

In a nice gift from the gods, just as we walked outside to try and sort things out, we watched as the two cars who had boxed Julius in were driving off.

Road goal: Don’t let anxiety trick us into thinking that it gives us control over the unknown.

Road wisdom: Things will work out, even parking.

 

Cafe Cubano. Nitro.
As soon as we landed in Miami: Croquetas de Jamón y Frituras de Malanga at Islas Carnerias. Thank you to Tony Bourdain for the recommendation!
Sunset on South Beach.
Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach. Touristy? Sure. Fun and delicious and Iconic? That too. We’d recommend getting the stone crab, but ALSO the mussels and the coconut shrimp. The Manhattans were sadly underwhelming.
Julius trying to blend in at the Wynwood Art District