Marylu – January 22 to February 14th, Louisiana to Austin

Marylu  – Louisiana through Austin (January 22nd to February 14, 2016)

Hard to believe it’s been a month since I’ve posted anything!  As soon as we arrived at the rental in Madisonville, things just started happening and we were hoppin’.  Our landlady, Sarah, wasn’t quite prepared for us, so we headed out for groceries and adult beverages after a brief tour of the place.  Sarah’s artwork appears throughout the house.

Sarah is quite an artist!
Sarah is quite an artist!

Alan bought a bottle of Sazerac (new to us, so we had to try it) and that started the fun.  As we unpacked groceries, Sarah noticed the bottle, asked if we’d ever had a Sazerac cocktail – “no,” – so she exclaimed that she was going to get the ingredients, and she did.  After testing the recipe a couple of times, nine p.m. surprised us all. (If you’re curious check out the recipe http://www.sazerac.com/cocktail.aspx)   Sarah left for the weekend with a promise to show us how to party in Louisiana.

We roused ourselves the next morning to begin a tour of Louisiana.  Madisonville is a small town accessible to Covington, Mandeville, Slidell and New Orleans.

Madisonville Museum with Jail Below  – 1/2 Tour!

 

Example of Great Slidell Street Art
Example of Great Slidell Street Art

Over the course of the next two weeks, we went to four parades –

Our First Mardi Gras Parade, Krewe de Vieux, in New Orleans ("R" rated)
Our First Mardi Gras Parade
Mardi Gras Float
Mardi Gras Float (“R” Rated)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

toured lots of attractions, danced to Zydeco music, and tried all sorts of southern cuisine: pickled okra, muffalettas, po-boys, beignets, etouffee, gumbo, and a variety of fried foods, even oysters!

Fried Eggplant with Etoufee
Fried Eggplant with Etoufee

Surprisingly, we did not try the standard cocktails in New Orleans:  Cyclone, Hurricane and Hand Grenade, but we did get to a brewery

Jefferson Brewery & Friendly Folks
Jefferson Brewery & Friendly Folks

and saw some historical landmarks.

Saint Louis Cathedral
Saint Louis Cathedral

In addition, to going to parades, one came to us.  We went to New Orleans to the Rock ’n Bowl to see Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas.  After listening and dancing to high energy music,  limiting ourselves to two beers each (important note), we headed across Lake Pontchartrain via the world’s longest bridge over a body of water, the Causeway.   According to the mile markers, it’s about 24 miles long.  At 11:00 p.m., there wasn’t much traffic, but then, we started passing parade floats!

"Parade on Bridge"
“Parade on Bridge”

Another note about the bridge – although there are periodic cross overs, there is no stopping.  It would require a serious emergency to stop as traffic flows at 65 miles an hour.  Back to the story…because it was late and we’d had a couple of beers, and because we’re careful and conscientious, cruise control was set at 63 or so.  Suddenly, a patrol car pulled out of a cross over and started following us with lights flashing!  What?!  The car kept getting closer, so Alan slowed down a bit, then more, then more, as we wondered when and where to pull over.  Finally, we heard:  “You don’t have to stop, I’m just waiting for the parade to catch up.”

It would be fun to spend time in towns west of New Orleans for Cajun/Zydeco music and dancing and crawfish boils. I didn’t know there were rice fields in Louisiana or that they were used to raise crawfish!

Abita Springs Backyard Home to Crawfish
A Crawfish Home

From Louisiana we traveled to Galveston Island, Texas, for a week stay.  The first few days were very windy and chilly but we found a few tours and breweries to keep us busy.

Galveston Brewery Pet
Galveston Brewery Rooster

The tour of the former oil platform was interesting but disappointing as the preview film was down and the catwalk to the rig was under repair and inaccessible.

Galveston Ocean Rig Tour
Galveston Ocean Rig Tour

The Galveston newspaper had articles  welcoming their “Winter Texans” back.  We did see a group of them greeting each other and catching up at a Greek restaurant.   Might be fun to return later in the spring next time around.

We did walk the beach a few times and took our new friend, Mardi Craw, a throw from a Mardi Gras parade. Although we don’t collect treasures, we decided he should join us on our travels.  Watch for him in upcoming photos.

Mardi Craw
Mardi Craw

Had to add a Galveston sunset for good measure.

Galveston Seawall at Sunset
Galveston Seawall at Sunset

Off to Austin…..

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Galveston, Texas 2/7/16 – 2/14/16

From Alan –

Population = 54,652, latitude 29º 16’, longitude 94º 49’, elevation 7 feet, average January low temperature = 48.1, Average July high temperature = 88, average sunny days = 203, annual snowfall = 0.1, annual rainfall = 41.7”, comfort index = 28

The approach to Galveston runs through Houston.  Fortunately, we are driving through on a Sunday so traffic is only massive, aggressive, and crushing.  Somehow, Gypsy’s GPS finds our way through the maze, past the oil refineries, over a huge bridge, and onto the island.  The city of Galveston encompasses most of a low lying island that has been wiped out by hurricanes multiple times, so lots of the houses, especially close to the shoreline, are small and stand on stilts or are set on top of garages.  Many of them are what would be the third type of home found in New Orleans; the shotgun shack.  Our new residence is a cute little shotgun, compact and efficient, measuring (counting 12” x 12” floor tiles) 11’ x 35’.

ashotgun
Galveston shotgun house.

Our tour of the island starts with the Seawall.  The South side of the island overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, which has not been kind to Galveston.  The hurricane of 1900 destroyed much of the city, causing the deaths of about 8000 people, a USA record that still stands today.  After that, the residents built a 10 mile long seawall to deflect future storm surges.  Seawall Boulevard runs alongside the seawall, has a broad sidewalk, and stairs down to the hard, surf-packed sand beach.  With a few exceptions, it is wide open seafront without any businesses or concessions.  Parking is along the street and paid for by an ingenious app you download to your phone.  There are even port-a-potties every 200 yards or so, cleverly disguised by blue and white striped tents.  The East End has Stewart Beach Park, where there are refreshments, restrooms, and a big parking lot (in season).  About in the middle there is the Historical Pleasure Pier, with its carnival games and rides.  The West End is more residential but has a few “Pocket Parks” with open seashore.

aeastend
East end of the island, on the seawall.
apleasure2
The daytime Pleasure Pier. Lots of neon at night.
awestend
West end village. Right on the beach but up on stilts.

Galveston hosts a myriad of restaurants.  We saw seafood restaurants everywhere, as well as Cajun, Greek, Chinese, Mexican, German, and Thai.  We tried everything from the little joints where you stand in line to order then get a tray with paper plates, to nice restaurants with effective, effusive waitstaff.  Even though we tend to avoid the fancy-schmansy big buck seafood places, we still found lots of great food.  There are only three breweries on the island, but we found all of them too.

apoboy
Shrimp po boy, served with both cocktail sauce and tartar here.
agerman
German jaeger pork schnitzel and a shepherd’s pie.
abrewery
Galveston Island Brewery has a great taproom, nice patio, and a very spoiled resident rooster.

We always try to hit the best of the “Things To Do” lists in Trip Advisor.  High up in the list is the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum.  Guess I never thought about it that much, but it takes a lot of technology and massive engineering to get oil out of the ocean floor.  The Ocean Star used to be a working rig in the Gulf and it still has lots of the original hardware onboard.  The scale of this stuff is amazing.  Inside the rig there are models and exhibits and videos that explain how the big drills operate.  How do they drill horizontally?  They deflect the drill bit by one or two degrees for a very long time.  Interesting museum, well worth the admission.

aoceanstar
Ocean Star drilling rig. The 3 big columns went all the way to seafloor to hold up the rig.
adrill
The drill platform. For scale, the drill lengths leaning there are 5″ by 31 feet long.

Another place we found was The Bishop’s Palace.  This is a ornate stone Victorian mansion, built starting in 1887, that was built for a wealthy lawyer and politician.  In 1923 is was sold to the Catholic church and became the residence for the Bishop.  The wood, marble, and stone  features are beautiful and intricate.  Whenever we tour places like this, I am always amazed with the amount of money that people will spend to impress others with how much money they have.

apalace
The Bishop’s Palace
astairs
The grand staircase in the Bishop’s Palace

Our next excursion was the ferry ride from the East End to Port Bolivar.  Somehow, the ferry falls under the purview of the Texas Highway Department, so the ride is free.  We drive Gypsy on then stand by the rail to watch.  Massive cargo ships, drill rigs and their tenders, and fishing vessels all ply these waters, so there is a lot to see.  Close to the Port Bolivar end, we even see a few dolphins pacing the ferry.  Onshore, there is nothing to see.  Fancy houses on stilts cluster near the ocean.  The road runs for miles until the first beer.  The beer is OK, the bar is a dive, we head back to the ferry.

ashipping
Freighters leaving the Port of Galveston.

The rest of our time in Galveston is pretty low key.  We walk the beaches, pick up seashells, visit the historic downtown, view some stately old mansions, relax.  There is a small town vibe here in our neighborhood.  The two main drags can get crowded twice a day, but otherwise the driving is easy.  The street we are living on could host little kid’s baseball games with few interruptions.

amansion
Classic old house in the “Silk Stocking” district

Judging from the statistics I quote above, you would think it would be a pretty comfortable place to live, especially with the cool ocean breezes in the summer.  But then there is the last number; the comfort index.  Higher scores mean better livability.  Humidity gets very high here in the summer, even though the temperature is mild.  In our travels, I have found that Southern people are either Desert or Jungle; dry or humid.   Maybe I just don’t care for either.  Still exploring.

Next up:  Austin, Texas

More Louisiana 1/29 – 2/5

From Alan –

Abita Springs, Louisiana  1/29/16 – 2/5/16

Abita Springs is only about 14.5 miles from Madisonville.  When we were booking places to stay, we thought that just one week would not be enough time in this area, so we found another place nearby.  It is a cute little town, it has a resident brewery, and the new place is on a golf course.  But the rental is a standard, out of the cookie-cutter unit in a row of units just like it.  I already miss the high ceilings and wild decorations back at Sarah’s place.

agolf
Hill Crest Golf course in the winter. Muddy but mostly playable.

We start the week with another Saturday parade, the Krewe of Push Mow.  This time it is in Abita Springs and pretty much a wholesome, local affair.  By 10:30 A.M. a band is cranking some Cajun/Zydeco/Southern rock in the town square.  The local Ladies Progressive Club has food and drinks for sale.  People in funny costumes are everywhere, strolling the crowd, bopping to the music.  The corner bar is offering an overwhelmingly overloaded bloody Mary, so Marylu and I start the day with some spicy tomato-y goodness.  About noon, the parade starts through town.  There are a few modest floats, royalty in convertibles, marching bands, tractors, horses, cheerleaders, and little ballerinas dancing down the street.  We are covered in mounds of beads in no time.

 

aband
Starting the day with some Cajun music.
abloody
Bloody mary, extra bacon and asparagus.
abfloat
Parade in Abita Springs

After the parade, it is back to the town square for some jambalaya and beer.  The food is great and the beer is good and cheap and the day is warm and bright.  Life is good here in Louisiana.  Being prudent old farts, we head back to the unit for a nap.  It is amazing what you can get done if you pace yourself.

Next up is the parade in Covington, the Krewe of Olympia.  Sarah wrangled us invitations to a crawfish boil at a Freddy’s house, right on the parade route.  When we arrive, Guy, the Boil Master, is setting up.  Propane tank, massive pot with strainer to fit inside, bags and jars of boil spices, mushrooms, sausages, potatoes, corn, and bags of fresh, live crawfish.  Each step of the preparation is carefully timed, tested, and tasted.  Finally, just before sunset, they drag over the autopsy table.  This is stainless steel and big enough to hold a large person lying down, with a drain in the middle.  Perfect for a crawfish boil.  Guy dumps the whole mass onto the table and the crowd digs in.  Break the crawfish like so, bite the tail here, use your teeth to get the meat out, crunch and suck the head.  Phenomenal!  Kind of like shrimp or crab but with a unique blend of spices and herbs, hot and buttery.

aguynsarah
Marylu with Guy the Boilmaster and Sarah our guide to all things Louisiana.
aboil
Crawfish, corn, sausage, mushrooms, garlic, crazy spices.

And then the parade goes by.  This runs probably 30 or more floats with high school marching bands and big tractor-pulled floats peopled by masked bead throwers who pelt the crowd with everything from stuffed animals to beads to foam footballs.  The parade goes on and on with a rousing clamor and the fallout accumulates.  Freddy’s fence is covered with hundreds of bead strings.  Funky float flotsam flows forth.  Whew!  Another batch of boil hits the autopsy table and, even though we don’t have any room left for even a little, we settle back in to graze; biting tails and sucking heads with the natives.  Despite all desire to have more beer and crawfish, again, being prudent old farts, we head back to the unit for more napping.

acovefloat
Crew of Angry Bird?
acovmarch
What’s a parade without marching bands?

The rest of the week goes a little slower.  We decide that there is just way too much craziness in New Orleans to visit it again this time around.  By this date, there are 4 to 6 krewes parading per day, leading up to Fat Tuesday when the whole city goes into party overdrive.  We hang out in Abita Springs, sampling the local food and beer, playing some golf, relaxing and taking some down time.  We explore the very weird UCM Museum.  It can be such a luxury, having nothing to do all day and doing exactly that.

aucm
The UCM Museum is a little strange…
abbrew
The taproom at Abita Springs Brewery

Just for the helluvit, we go on a swamp tour.  We have seen urban, so now we get to see some rural.  Captain Charlie loads us into his big flat bottomed boat and runs us through rivers, swamps, and bayous, past jungles, past redneck campsites.  He may sound like a Southern yokel, but he is a local and a naturalist and knows his stuff.  Unfortunately, it is a cold and windy day so we don’t see any alligators or snakes.  The big surprise of the day is when we get way into a remote, dense swamp.  Charlie lets out a ear-piercing whistle and soon we hear brush rustling.  Over a dozen big wild boars are running and swimming up to the boat.  Charlie has trained them over the years to come a-running for marshmallows.

aswamp
Deep in the bayou
aboars
Wild boars chasing marshmallows

We have a couple of days open in our schedule so we make two one-day stops along the way to Galveston.

Opelousas  2/5/16

Checking through our options on where to go next, I found that Opelousas is an easy drive away and, more importantly, claims to be the World Capital of Zydeco.  As part of their Mardi Gras celebration, there is a free concert by Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie.  We last saw him in Minnesota and loved the music.  The concert is in a cute little theater with just a few tables and chairs set up along the sides.  Geno and the guys crank it up at 7:00 and play non-stop until 10:00.  There is something about an accordian, when it is played to the max by an expert, that is unique.  The sound is kind of like an organ but somehow in 3D with the vibrato.  The band is seamless tight and creates walls of sound that run through the room like a train, gather up the dancers and dragging them along.  The whole theater vibrates with a Zydeco heartbeat.  There is a life and joy to this music that you just don’t find elsewhere.

ageno
Geno and the Boogies cranking out some Zydeco

Lafayette  2/6/16

This is a much bigger city than the last few.  It appears to be well stocked with great places to eat and things to do.  We only have one day, so we decide to visit some history; the Acadian Village.  This is a little village of restored Acadian homes, with costumed period presenters to tell us about each building.  The trapper uses flint and steel to actually make a fire for us.  The fiddler cranks out some sweet old Cajun tunes.  Grandmotherly ladies sit in rockers, knitting, and tell us about how the homes were laid out.  We finally see concrete examples of Acadian and Creole homes and how they are different.

acadian
Acadian home. Tall, two sided roof, sleeping room inside.
acreole
Creole home. Low, four sided roof, attic inside.

That night is yet another Mardi Gras parade.  This is a much bigger city than Covington so the parade is longer, the crowds larger, the throws more abundant.  At one point I was wishing I had a fishing net.  Not for gathering mass quantities of bead, but rather for protecting face and hands against the onslaught of speeding plastic headed my way.  I think we have had enough parades to last us a LONG time.

alafloat
Parade in Lafayette

From Marylu – Florida and Mississippi to Louisiana

From Marylu – Florida and Mississippi to Louisiana

After leaving Poinciana and the interior of Florida, we arrived at our coastal destination in Panama City Beach.  It was a dark and stormy night, chilly too ….

Storm All Around Us
Storm All Around Us

Fortunately the rain quit in time for us to haul everything up to the 3rd floor – no elevator.  Alan established a firm rule, no higher than the 2nd floor unless there is a working elevator!

A late evening arrival meant finding a nearby restaurant for dinner followed by shopping for our weekly provisions.  Dear readers, I’m sure you wouldn’t be too surprised that we found Hofbräu Beer Garden not far

German Beer Haus for Dinner
German Beer Haus for Dinner

from our condo.  Besides, it’s best not to go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, right?

Although the weather was usually cool, the beach called to me everyday.  In the future, I might be one of those old beachcombers you see, maybe even with a metal detector.

Future Beachcomber?
Future Beachcomber?

As we watched and listened to the Minnesota weather reports, we appreciated being able to walk the beach in temperatures that reached 65 degrees.  One day, we were entertained by the efforts of heavy equipment moving that white sand around and had warm thoughts of our family and friends doing the same with snow.

Plow Sand Not Snow
Plow Sand Not Snow

 

Entertainment on the Beach
Entertainment on the Beach

 

 

 

Now that we’ve been on the road for 3 months (is that all?!), we realize how different our everyday lives have become.  There are some quiet days when we manage enough ambition to rummage for leftovers rather than go out;  or, we just enjoy finishing another chapter in the latest Kindle book.  Those are great respites from our explorations.

But, what kind of adventurers would be be if we didn’t continue our quest for whatever it is people find in their favorite places.

At Ripley Museum, Panama City Beach
At Ripley Museum, Panama City Beach
Biloxi Lighthouse
Biloxi Lighthouse
Buddhist Temple in Biloxi
Buddhist Temple in Biloxi

 

 

 

 

 

Civil War Cemetery - Biloxi
Civil War Cemetery – Biloxi

I hope we can continue to enjoy the wondrous, meaningful, and/or quirky scenes and have the mindfulness to live in the moment for just awhile longer…..

Sunset with Moon
Sunset with Moon

Thank goodness for the technology that allows me to capture these scenes somewhere other than in my brain.  If I overdo posting the sunsets and the sky, my apologies.  You are spared so many more!

Sunset from our Condo
Sunset from our Condo

Brew pubs are great for socializing with people who have common interests.

Friendliest Bar in PCB Kwiker Liquor
Friendliest Bar in PCB Kwiker Liquor

Everyone enjoys sharing stories about their cities and travels. Fellow travelers acknowledge how fortunate we are living in the age of GPS, internet booking, and quick access to finding food/lodging/entertainment.  The blog, Facebook, texting, emails and phone calls, all enable us to stay in contact with our families and friends.  Life in the 21st century is certainly making our world smaller.

What awaits us in Louisiana?