Morning in Sparta, Wisconsin started with a much anticipated roadside attraction: the fiberglass mold graveyard on the grounds of FAST (or the Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks Corp.) The owner is fine with you wandering around at your own risk—perusing the molds and taking pictures–and so we did. There were recognizable molds, like Bob’s Big Boy or the very attractive large ice cream cones with both waffle and sugar cones, and a ton I wished I had the opportunity to see what came out of the mold. But there were only several colorful fiberglass pieces.
After a bit of a drive, we made it to our breakfast destination, Modern Times in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was very hungry and ready to chow down with fierce ferocity. I got the Polenta Rancheros, housemade polenta patties topped with black beans, ranchero sauce-basted tofu, poblano sour cream and cabbage salsa. It was very good but pretty wet. It needed some starch to sop up the deliciousness.
Next was Glam Doll Donuts, a bombshell of a donut joint with a separate case of vegan versions of their delicious flavor combinations. The place hit all the marks–extraordinary donuts superior in every aspect and adorable vintage decor with plenty of room for photoshoots with the donuts. Plus all their donut names pay homage to glamour queens of America.
There were plenty of vegan options to choose from but I chose their Varga Girl, a light, airy donut filled with a delectable almond cream and iced with a drool-worthy coat of chocolate… and topped with toasted almonds.
It was perfect in every way: the donut was not too greasy and had wonderfully nostalgic mouthfeel; the almond cream had a spectacular texture and taste; and the chocolate icing tasted like chocolate, not a waxy flavorless encasement but a dress of richness that let the donut’s almond notes sing. It really was amazing.
Ok, never mind the teeth marks. It’s all about the cream filling.
We stopped at this fantastic used book store so I can pick up some sci-fi mentor texts for my 5th graders. It was a great stop but left our lungs dust-filled and ready for a brisk walk.
We headed lakefront to the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway to walk around Calhoun Lake, part of Minneapolis’s Chain of Lakes. The chain of lakes right outside downtown Minneapolis is a popular destination, second only to the Mall of America. Ugh.
Finally, a late lunch at Ecopolitan, a building with natural health services and a raw, vegan cafe.
Of course it was the raw, vegan cafe that drew us in. We started with the Cashew Cheese Log rolled in sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and fresh basil, served with sweet marinated onions and very hearty flax crackers. And a balsamic reduction. The exterior of the log had all that flavor, inside–deliciously creamy, soft and subtle.
For my entree, I chose “Surprise Me,” an option where the chef creates a unique dish for you. It was risky but they were out of the one thing on the menu I felt strong about. I was indecisive about what I wanted. So I received this stuffed pepper loaded with their zucchini noodles, a ground nut concoction, fresh avocado and drizzled with a nut cream and surrounded by vibrant sprouts and veggies. It felt so good to eat raw… everything was so fresh and flavorful. My tastebuds stung and tingled with delight.
Next it was onward to Fargo, North Dakota, our most western point on the itinerary. As summer and being further west has the sun going down at almost half past nine, we took advantage of the prolonged daylight. We squeezed one more meal in. This quickie was from Red Raven, an esperesso “parlor” / performance and art space in an old firehouse.
The sammy: a curried chickpea “salad” on toasted seeded bread. It was simple but really good. Nice work, Fargo.
The Art Deco Ambassador Hotel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Mexican chocolate cake from Outpost Natural Foods (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Lake Michigan at Bradford Beach. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Monty’s Blue Plate Diner‘s vegan menu. (Madison, Wisconsin)
Heathen Vegan Shoplifter’s Delight open-faced sandwich. Portobellos, fried Bandung tempeh, red onion, and fresh avocado with lemon tahini dressing on a baguette.
The Infinity Room at the House on the Rock, a glorious and fascinating place, suspended and overlooking the forest below.
Section 2′s carousel was breathtaking. These pictures hardly do it any justice.
Circus collection was also a draw. This man collected everything old and neat and housed it in this maze-like structure. It was dizzying and fantastic.
Everything moved and jangled.
I’m so glad we made our way into the Black Forest region, heading southeast from Kemnath towards the Swiss border. Our first stop was Stuttgart. With more than 5 million people residing in the Stuttgart metropolitan region, it’s no wonder that the city is bustling the same way big cities in the states are–crawling with traffic and under development. Luckily there are vegan options to be had in an area of the city dominated by adult shops and strip clubs, oddly enough. We had lunch on the cobblestone corner at V Vegetarian Restaurant, a clean, posh cafe and bar offering clearly labeled vegan options in their small menu. After some help with translation from a customer and the sweet staff of V, we were ready to eat.
The kids are loving our vegan adventures so far! And now another American friend is town who is vegetarian, a young lady stopping on her way back to New York from studying in Russia. Given my party’s vegan friendliness, I get to see more of these eateries menus. In this shot is my rhubarb crumb cake, a German version of an Indian dish and a colorful and scrumptious-looking salad topped with nori-wrapped tofu.
Yes, I said vegan rhubarb crumb cake! It was delicious. I washed it down with sips of rhubarb soda.
I chose the Paella with rice, mushrooms, chopped green beans. The dish was flavorful but just a little mushy. I needed a contrasting texture.
Next on my checklist, visiting two record breaking sized cuckoo clocks. I have become exciting about cuckoo clocks since our trip to Rothenburg o.d. Tauber, contemplating buying one of these intricately carved pieces of German craftsmanship. But they’re a hefty Euro. This large one in Triberg was a fun stop. The clock was surrounded by a bunch of similar-minded weirdos awaiting the cuckoo’s arrival on the hour. We basked in the beauty of the area while we waiting in a prime viewing spot.
After the cuckoo cuckooed, we walked the shopping strip in Triberg, pouring over the wooden crafts quickly as most shops closed at 6pm. There were clock shops a-plenty that may have taken a large chunk of my discretionary income had they been open.
Views around the Black Forest were astonishing. Tremendous trees filled the hills of the region, dotted with traditional German dwellings with beautiful wood-carved balconies.
When kids are hungry, you can’t make them travel hours for a vegan options. I ordered a pizza with no cheese at an Italian cafe in town. Though my pizza had peas, carrots, and corn on it, it was pretty satisfying. We did, after all, have a hike to do! We made our way to the tallest waterfalls in Germany.
It was nice to be able to watch the sun set from the forest.
This was my favorite shot.
Although we were all tired, enthusiasm still lingered for finding the other huge cuckoo clock in town. We got there way after the adjoining shops were closed but the clock had a coin-operated mechanism. We dropped a EU in and the sleepy clock awoke. A languid music box melody chimed from it as villagers filed in and out of the top of the clock.
Another beautiful and unique sight here on my trip to Germany. Goodnight!
It was a long drive into Birmingham, Alabama. After hours of being snug between rolling green acres with the occasional billboard, sometimes a city comes out of the night and disorients you. Birmingham was faster than I expected. I slept in and slept off my highway stupor and needed a good breakfast to fuel me for the long day of sites and sounds. Luckily there is Golden Temple Natural Grocery & Cafe, the area’s only all-vegetarian cafe inside a limited natural foods grocer. The cafe opens at 11 a.m., which left me some time to browse the arsenal of Wiccan Goddess supplies in the shop.
I tried not to bum-rush the cafe counter at 11 a.m. but I did–just like I did yesterday at Loblolly Creamery. I was elated to see they had a batch of vegan cupcakes freshly made for me to eat. They were supposed to be Red Velvet but the baker had some struggles with beet juice coloring. This she told me as I waited for my juice order. Yes, a cupcake and some fresh-pressed juice. I told you I dance on the poles.
I thought the cupcake was quite good. The texture was very soft. My eager chompers melted through the cake easily. Pretty good, Birmingham!
Oh, what’s that? Lunch happens immediately after breakfast on the road? Sure. I headed to Bottletree Cafe, an adorable cafe/bar/venue that is covered wall-to-wall in the most impressive display of vintage kitsch delights. It reminded me of my teenage bedroom, a treasure trove of thrift-shopped bric-a-brac. Or like Loves Saves the Day in NYC’sEast Village in the 90′s. When I arrived Star Wars was playing on the huge projector screen. I would have loved to eat lunch watching Luke Jedi-train in the Dagobah system, but the lighting would be horrible for pictures.
I came to Bottletree for their vegan wrap option–the Tofu Thai Wrap. Battered and fried strips of tofu, splashed with a sweet chili garlic sauce, sprinkled with chopped red onion and packaged with shredded lettuce, shaved carrot and cilantro. It really hit the spot- sweet, heat, and fried spots to be specific.
Look at this outstanding dense tofu all stark white. And a side of quinoa!
After my morning in Birmingham, the plan was to stop in Montgomery. There were a few food options I wanted to check out, and a few roadside attractions. Two of which had to do with Hank Williams. But the drive to Montgomery was mostly dark grey. With most of the trip to Mobile being alongside these fickle rainy fits, I thought I’d press on south on the Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway with Hank Williams on the speakers instead.
In and out of heavy downpours, I managed a few scenic stops, one at a fill-up in Clanton when this huge peach caught my eye…
And another in Prattville to see W.C. Rice’s Cross Garden.
This reminds me of the Buddhist hells I visited in Thailand.
“Hell is Hot, Hot, Hot” was all over the place. On ovens…
and old air conditioners…
On pretty much everything.
After Hank Williams on repeat, I was happy to have the chance to stop at his childhood home in Georgiana, Alabama. The home is now a museum, which was closed when I got there unfortunately.
I was happy I was able to see it.
My final stop for the day was in Mobile at the Mellow Mushroom, a “funky” pizza chain with locations all about the south. The place was packed with University kids and yuppy middle aged men in in Denali vests. A bad scene all around. I order a tofu, tempeh, basil, tomato and artichoke calzone to go and made a b-line to Gulfport, Mississippi to settle in for my last night down south.
Goodnight, Mississippi! See you in the morning.
Nothing will settle me into a day of auto/train/plane travel than a hearty breakfast. And there was still time to squeeze in another stop in Atlanta. Breakfast would be served at Stone Soup Kitchen, yet another bustling breakfast spot in the hip Grant Park area.
Stone Soup Kitchen offeres patrons a menu with vegan dishes clearly marked. Thank you for this, Stone Kitchen! They also offered me vegan butter for my delicious Blueberry Corn Meal Flapjacks, made with soy yogurt and my friend Bob Mills’ gluten-free flour. Finally, a meal that isn’t predominantly constructed and bound by gluten! I am ashamed to say that I ate 4 out of 5 of these darlings… Ashamed, because trip s like this make me feel like Audrey in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. It’s ok. With my entire day tied up in some kind of transport machine, it was the last of my gluttonous mission.
It was time to say goodbye to the 7-lane north and south ping-pong of my Hotlanta excursion, time to say goodbye to Southern drawls, time to say goodbye to the obscenely ugly, bright purple-blue Hyundai Accent. And with easy-on/easy-off interstate access around the block from Stone Soup Kitchen, I managed to return my vehicle to the airport 3 days later on the exact minute of my pick-up. Stick a fork in me, I am done!
Here are some other non-food sights:
Cornelia, Georgia is home of the Big Red Apple, a bright, sweet fruit in a salad of the Gods. Why the apple? Pardon the Wiki paraphrase: The embrace of apple production in the 1920′s saved the area from the evil boll weevil who munched the heck out of the state’s cotton fields and pushed rural folk to the bigger cities.
The town was empty, save for an awesome old couple taking pictures of the apple.
I past this impressive auto salvage castle on Interstate 365 on the way to Cornelia. I thought I’d stop in and take some pictures on the way back. The friendly white-bearded proprietor let me know this was a very common occurrence. The elaborate auto salvage “theme park,” lined by a stacked-car fence, is visited often. An area college’s photography class does field trips there.
I had free roam to the expansive property, but I wasn’t going to stay long. For a million reasons. The eerie feel of the place began to make me feel claustrophobic. All of these vehicles were destroyed and they still seemed angry about it.
But I had to take a closer look at these buses. These were like the ones that got thrown at Superman.
School buses in fetal position.
If cars had a hell, this would be it.
I saw a billboard for Cinderella’s Closet, a pageant shop, and knew I had to capture some of the color. I was disappointed that the gaudiest dresses were bagged up. The place had two mini-stages with cat walks.
Bad taste for every age!
Back at the hotel I spied these two little kitties on top of the dumpster. I watched them intently for a few minutes, missing my little buddies back in New York.
So Oklahoma City, yeah. This trip has officially come full-circle. We passed through Oklahoma at the start of our trip 12 days ago but did not stop. Even though I had discovered the raw restaurant 105 Degrees via ye olde google search, time was not on our side and we’d have to waste a good deal of time to try it out. We pledged to come back on the return trip. I mean, c’mon… gourmet vegan dining in Oklahoma City?! We needed to get to the bottom of this.
As it turns out, 105 Degrees’s menu was is created by New York City’s Pure Food and Wine‘s Matthew Kenney. The space houses a living cuisine academy and boutique, another unique destination on our vegan roadtrip. Starting our day with some thrifting we worked up an appetite that grew through our attempt at finding the restaurant’s space. But it was well worth the wait and folly. I started with a first course of kimchee dumplings in a pool of sea foam and sprinkle of black sesame seeds. The dumplings were amply stuffed with a delicious kimchee medley.
My main course was their Arrabiata, a potato gnocchi in a hot chili-tomato sauce around a bed of wilted spinach and some dollops of aged raw chevre. The portion was heated (not above 105 degrees!) and the perfect portion to leave a spot for one of their yummy desserts.
That dessert, a citrus poppy seed cake with vanilla bean cream frosting topped with a blueberry compote. It was the perfect end of a very impressive meal. Here I am below with a cheek full of the cake’s delicately-texture “cake”. I couldn’t put my finger on what the base of this dessert was. I stopped trying to figure it out and quickly became a member of the clean plate club. Check CandyPenny’s blog for details on her special raw Oklahoma City meal.After lunch we headed back towards Texas. On the way we spied a billboard for The Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul’s Valley, OK. Another exciting and interesting road find, we had to check it out. The museum was home to local artist and collector Kevin Stark’s personal collection. It exhibited over 10,000 pieces including a very extensive bat cave jam-packed with a ton of Batman artifacts. This was the most impressive and extensive exhibit. There were also showcases of DC, Marvel and WWF (WWE?) action figures, a GI Joe section and a relatively small Star Wars wall.
The museum also had a display of Alternative Baking Company‘s vegan cookies! Here the friendly museum employee poses with the cookies. Best action figure museum snack ever.
Oklahoma soon gave way to the Lone Star state. The end. I’ll have one more day in Austin before heading back home to my life, sans car. But not without a few more vegan eats inland…
After a good deal of time in Phuket Town, it was time to change home base. Being as far South as I’d get in Thailand, I headed North to Phang Nga Town. Phang Nga hosts a nice variety of attractions, the most famous being Khao Ping Kan, often referred to as “James Bond Island”. Again, access to the island through the beautiful Phang Nga Bay/National Park, is far more practical through a local tour booking in town. After being solicited by several friendly tour operators, many whose personalities and helpfulness earned them name drops in highly regarded guide books, I booked a day-tour for the next morning. I’d see the bay by traditional longtail boat, those colorful wooden vessels I’ve been photographing, with only 2 other travelers (an American couple).
That left the rest of the day at my disposal in Phang Nga. First order of business is always ditching the backpack at a guest house. Back to my budget for now, I chose my usual cheapest place in town, in this case Thawisuk Hotel. After a quick lunch of traditional Thai food and pineapple shake, I walked the 1.5 kms to Tapan Cave. The photocopied map of town I had added the parenthetical Heaven and Hell Cave under its name. As I walked I thought that stumbling upon another of these wacky places would be too strange, that I shouldn’t take heaven/hell cave literally. Then I saw the figures looming out of the trees, more bloody and gruesome then any of the previous Hells. Was someone trying to tell me something?
This Hell was all about genital mutilation. Let’s look at this from the back for full effect. My goodness.
Women don’t get off any easier.
These places are pretty sick. I find it so strange that before coming here I spent a good deal of time on the computer figuring out how to locate the first one I visited in Bang Saen and now they just rear their gory heads in my paths.
After leaving the the bizarre temple’s grounds and embarking upon the dirt road path back to Bang Saen’s main road, I walked passed a pack of stray dogs basking in the hazy sun. Most ignored me but one of them must have read what I said in my previous post about him and his friends being mentally retarded. He began to follow me, growling behind me with a growing intensity. I feared any moment my bright white shin, which he must have seen as an anomaly, would feel the pop and tear from his dirty fangs. I began shouting “No!” loudly without turning around, as if he were a bear pacing my tent. Luckily at that moment a motorcycle taxi driver pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I jumped on the back of the bike immediately.
Ok, I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle before and what better time than to escape the rabid gatekeeper of hell. The ride was 40 Baht (a little more than $1US), exhilarating and sans helmet, which, given the pumping adrenalin, I didn’t even notice. I was delivered to the bus stop unharmed and was quickly swept onto a bus, my destination as obvious as the color of my skin. The 2 hour ride further East was 60 Baht. (Here I am pictured on the bike of motorcycle ride numero 2.)
I was on my way to Pattaya, another beach town along the East coast of the Gulf of Siam. Pattaya has the reputation of drawing many, many tourists. It encompasses the best and worst of Thailand. The best being an island beach with plenty of modern developments, abundant shopping and a variety of restaurants, clubs and pubs. The worst being a ton of garbage, harassing soliciting locals, sex trade workers, “massage” brothels and go-go bars (see picture.) I regretted making the stop here at this tourist heaven very quickly. The place was oozing with trash, many of the human kind. I quickly learned that the destination was for older Western men to tout their young Thai girlfriends, for older Western men to pay for young Thai women’s services and for them to walk red-faced drunk through the dirty streets.
There was also a strong transvestite/gay male presence in Pattaya. Although the gender barriers are more skewed here in Thailand (Straight Thai men often wear make-up when they go out.) Boys’ Town seemed to be for anybody but.
Not wanting to partake in any of these scenes and feeling the weight of my heavy backpack, I headed South via motorbike to Jomtien Beach to try to find adequate but cheap accommodations to hold me over until I can skip town early the next morning. Billed as quieter and away from Pattaya City’s thriving bar scene, Jomtien Beach was no paradise either. After being solicited by the motorcycle rider for lord knows what (mentioning something in broken English about “taking care of me”, I quickly fled), then came the quest for a room. Given the late hour and my intentions of jumping ship early, I left at least 12 guest houses unsatisfied with the rate. I eventually settled on 300 Baht for the evening for a single with a fan. Good enough for less than 12 hours.
Once settled, I decided that I may have judged Pattaya too harshly and that I would give Jomtien Beach a chance to win me over by waking up early and finishing my slumber in the sand. However, the shoreline, which was a mere 10 feet or so was disgusting, littered with overflowing garbage cans and more stray dogs. Every inch of it had been claimed by locals charging for umbrellas and lounge chairs. Naturally, they want to cram as many people in their space to make maximum profit. The water was also sectioned off with rope and buoys. This type of tourist beach does more to turn my stomach then say the current condition of Coney Island Beach.
I did take some redeeming shots during my morning walk of Jomtien Beach however, I decided to find transport to the bus station early to make it to Trat by afternoon. Goodbye Pattaya!
The sign at the entrance read:
A Command of the King of the Devil: Human beings at the present, you are all in the heedleness committing the bad action, not afraid of sin, not to have the conscience and the mindfulness and stay away from religion. not to be aware of the hell or the heaven. You all should believe that the hell and heaven really exist. they are not worthless. these drawings of the departed spirits are only one part of the hell. punishing the hell beings in the hell has been felt for many for many forms. Human beings: you all do not live without uncarelessness, do not commit the bad action be not being of “the hell punishment”. In the future you should be as such. Do not complain whenever you face.
South of the Border. I have long seen these bumper stickers growing up in suburban New York. Being a fan of nonsensical roadside attractions, I had to appease my curiosity and make the swerving merge from the left lane to exit. The time of our visit was perfect: dusk in late January. The place was almost completely vacant. And so the fiber glass zoo of creatures was at our total disposal. Posing for pictures atop large mushrooms, in the arms on tall gorillas and oversized cultural stereotypes, the stop was well worth it. As a side note, the South of the Border billboards received a makeover a few years back as they were beginning to be perceived as insensitive to Mexican culture and non-native English speakers.
Driving off the continent and into the Florida Keys was a bit unnerving. Finding suddenly white-sanded shorelines, a large pelican population sitting pretty roadside and lengthy seven mile bridges… it plays with your equilibrium. The weather didn’t permit swimming unfortunately, never getting above about 70 degrees and being extremely breezy. Either way, there are no public beaches on any of the Keys (!) until the very end, Key West. It was a beautiful drive but the Keys were more geared to fisherpeople and scuba divers.
From sunny shores to an ice storm in Greensville, SC! Some playful patron of the Econolodge made a little snowman on my car during the overnight. Since I had initially planned on staying in only South Florida during my trip and packed accordingly, I quickly hit some Greenville’s amazing thrift stores to get warmer wear. The folks in Greenville were so friendly (attitudes grew less so as I headed west) and pointed me in the right direction. Greenville also gave me a welcome break from Subway’s veggie delite. Brixx’s offered vegan cheese substitution on all their pies.
I’ve seen ribbons for many issues but this one supported Lap Dancing! This supporter cut me off heading North on the I-95 towards Jacksonville, FL. I was lucky enough to be behind him in traffic and captured his idiocy with my camera, much to his rearview curiosity.
Next time you’re in Key West, FL, look for the brand new roadside attraction: American Gothic muffler man style. I spied her husband, pitchfork in hand, en route earlier in the day so I had to pull over to photograph the Mrs. as the truck driver rested aside the highway.
There is a Fountain in Youth in St. Augustine, FL. You don’t have to follow a fairy to uncover the spring. Just follow the billboards and neon-lit signs, pay the outlandish entrance fee along and experience it between the busloads of tourists. Or take pictures of the signs for kitsch value, use their public rest room and walk back to your rental car.
Looking for something to do in Knoxville, TN, I stumbled upon Trampled By Turtles. They put on a great show that evoked spontaneous line dancing amongst uninhibited on-lookers… something a dame from Brooklyn doesn’t see every day. I even “yee haw”ed a few times but this was under duress. Dave, the banjo player, can certainly duel with the best of ‘em.
Living in NYC, I never get to see uninterrupted and expansive sky. Somewhere between Savannah and Atlanta I fell madly in love with her cottony dress and electric blue, thumping the car to the rumble stick-lined lane as I fumbled with the camera. Somewhere abouts Charleston, WV I lost her.
The Museum of Appalachia was one of the big highlights of my winter break roadtrip. About an hour or so north of Knoxville, the museum housed an obsessively thorough collection of Appalachian mountain folk relics. The museum’s 63 acres contained thousands of artifacts and 30+ log dwellings depicting the everyday life of these mountain folk. And they do weddings. I was impressed with the extensive collection of stringed instruments from the era, including this banjo made from a ham can and others made from toilet seats. Those crazy mountain folk!
Colonial Park Cemetery in beautiful downtown Savannah, GA contained the antiquated and dishevelled tombstones you’d expect from a historical cemetery, most being illegible. The majority of the bones earthed there passed with a epidemic of yellow fever that hit the city in the 1800′s. The grey overcast and straw-like grass complimented perfectly the dancing souls within its perimeter. This poor soul seemed to be carrying out the latter half of two consecutive life sentences.
Also within the cemetery was the largest aloe plant-looking monstrosity of chlorophyll I ever did see. So large that hundreds of visitors had etched their initials and hearts upon its leaves. Vandalizing plant leaves: all’s fair in love I suppose.
J.R.’s (North Carolina) is to the I-95 South as Wall Drug (South Dakota) is to the I-90 West and when I first realized I was a long ways from New York. After way too many billboards, our expectations were growing. But ultimately it was a disappointment. Sure, they had talking Jesus, Mary and Joseph dolls, Moonshine jam and Hummer perfume but I wanted even weirder random consumables.
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