Galveston, Texas 1/20/17 – 1/27/17

Galveston, Texas:  Population =  47,762 (part of Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land Metro area = 6,490,180), elevation = 7 feet, average January low temp = 48.1, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 203, annual snowfall = 0.1”, annual rainfall = 41.7”, air quality index = 14.9, water quality index = 40, comfort index = 28, median age of residents = 35.6

The journey to Galveston runs through the tangled freeways of Houston.  Texans have a talent for spinning concrete and Houston is a fine example.  Freeway intersections sprout ramps and bridges and layer on layer of overpass.  The view in the GPS looks like a basketweaving project gone awry.  And then the rain starts…

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Turn left then bear right…

Finally, the rains dwindle, the Houston traffic subsides, the raw grating of road rage, Texas style, slacks off enough for a Minnesota driver to relax a little and look for landmarks.  One last bridge to cross and we are on Galveston Island.  The island is long and thin and runs roughly East to West.  The Strand is a Historic main street on the Northeast end.  Broadway runs down the middle.  Seawall runs along the South coast.  Our condo is on the Seawall, toward the West End.

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Our 3rd floor condo overlooks pool and ocean and the Seawall

The Strand is the dense little downtown where the city started.  Old streetcar tracks still lie embedded in the lumpy streets.  Curbs run anywhere from 6 to 15 inches tall, without any apparent reason.  The storefronts look like an old Western movie set, with the brick facades and columns.  There are lots of little hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants along the Strand and nearby streets, many with swinging doors out to the front porch.

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The Strand is the main street of downtown Galveston
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One of our favorite places, the Stuttgarden boast great German food and a long beer list.

Broadway is the business street.  Traffic gets to where they need to go by zooming down the wide thoroughfare.  The grassy median supports palm trees, live oaks, and a few statues.  Broadway was the historical home of the big shots, the movers and shakers and money magnets.  The last time we were here, we visited the Bishop’s Palace, a very ornate residence for a bishop flush with church money.  This time around we visit the Moody Mansion.

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After the Hurricane of 1900, Moody bought this house for a whopping $20,000
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Moody loved his cars and had a stable full of them
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Moody’s hand carved desk and chair
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Stained glass window over the grand staircase
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A cozy family sitting room

After the 1900 Hurricane caused massive death and destruction, the islanders rebuilt the seawall to add 17 feet of elevation to the island.  Today, the seawall extends across most of the island, topped with another wide thoroughfare, loaded with zooming traffic.  Fast food, beach ware shops, bars, and resorts line the seawall.  These resorts may sprawl, but most are only three stories or less.

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The East end of the Seawall overlooks the shipping channel leading to Houston
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Right about mid-island and a bottle’s throw inland, Galveston Island Brewing pours great beers
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The West end is not built up behind a seawall, but the homes are on stilts

The last time around, we visited the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Museum, which displayed some amazing modern engineering.  This time we toured the Bryan Museum, where we learned about the history of Texas.  Texas has a convoluted history, starting (for Europeans) in 1519, when the conquistadors came to claim it.  During the next 350 years, parts of Texas were claimed by France, Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America.

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The Conquistadors rode into Texas to take control and install religion
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Autographed lithograph of Davy Crocket
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Andy Warhol painted these portraits of Annie Oakley and George Custer

Galveston seems to be a great place to live.  It is big enough to be interesting but not so large as to be crowded.  It has lots of great food options. The winters are mild.  I’m not sure about the summers.  Wiki says “humid subtropical”, which sounds like jungle to me.  But the the residents say the ocean breezes keep it cool.  Guess I would have to spend a summer here to find out for myself.

Next up:  Conroe Texas, getting ready for Mexico

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana (January 13-20, 2017)

Baton Rouge  01/13/17 – 01/20/17

Baton Rouge, Louisiana:  Population =  228,590 (metro area = 830,480), elevation = 50 feet, average January low temp = 41.4, Average July high temp = 91, average sunny days = 212, annual snowfall = 0.1”, annual rainfall = 67.5”, air quality index = 16.8, water quality index = 13, comfort index = 26, median age of residents = 32.3

Since Alan was deep into recovery from the cold/flu bug and had a fussy memory of our stay in Baton Rouge, I’m replacing him as the author of this page.

Early French explorers called the area “Baton Rouge” after they observed red poles used as markers dividing two Indian nations. Baton Rouge is the Capitol city of Louisiana and has two Capitol buildings – more fun for us!  The old Capital was restored after a fire and is now a museum.  Before touring, we enjoyed learning about Huey P. Long, some Louisiana history, and “The Ghost of the Castle”.

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Old Capitol Dome - a Beauty
Old Capitol Dome – a Beauty
Huey P. Long and Family
Huey P. Long and Family
Senate Chamber - Huey Long Impeached
Senate Chamber – Huey Long Impeached
Bienville Monument Representing Louisiana’s Early History- Sieur de Bienville, a French Priest, and a Native American
Memorial to Southern Soldiers
The Ghost of the Old Capitol
The Ghost of the Old Capitol
Interior of the Old Capitol
Interior of the Old Capitol

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Statistics show that Baton Rouge is the second largest city in Louisiana, New Orleans is number one.  Louisiana’s visitor guides, funtrivia.com, and Wikipedia all state that the new Capitol building is the tallest Capitol building in the USA, 450 feet high with 34 floors.  We were told it has some terrific art deco work.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get back downtown for a tour.   The building did look impressive in our last shot of the city.

View of the New Capitol
View of the New Capitol

Traffic bears out that it is indeed well-populated and ranks high in statistical lists of cities with the worst roads, traffic jams, and accidents. We weren’t surprised to learn of the accident rate, attributing many of them to (1) the lack of striping normally used to indicate lanes, turn lanes, shoulders, driveway entrances, no barriers for or warnings about the culverts alongside unmarked driveways; (2) strange traffic control plans with u-turn lanes (handy but hazardous) and independent stop lights for the right lane; and, (3) the crazy pedestrians and bicyclists.  Crazy!  Examples:  *The older man (not wiser, but somehow a survivor) casually riding his bicycle, against the direction of traffic, right toward our car!  He was polite enough to give us a little wave.  *A pedestrian weaving her way through moving cars, a lot of them, in an effort to cross six lanes of traffic.  *Pedestrians totally ignoring red lights and the Don’t Walk sign while talking or texting on their phones.  Again, polite enough to give us little waves or nods of their heads.

Sorry there are no traffic pictures.  Enjoy these of our visit to an old church.

Historic Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we missed stopping by the Cathedral.

Our condo was in a suburb that seems to have suffered from the recession.  There were lots of empty properties for sale and leases for vacancies in the surrounding area.  The neighborhood mall – essentially dead.  Macy closed. Sears closing. Other unidentifiable storefronts closed.  There weren’t any of the usual larger chain restaurants such as Applebees, Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse, etc, which was okay since we prefer checking out local places.

Wonderful Decor in Old Chinese Restaurant
Wonderful Decor in Old Chinese Restaurant

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The list of sights/sites we wanted to see was pretty short:  Original State Capitol, new Capitol building, St. Joseph’s Cathedral (oldest church), the Louisiana State Museum, and, of course the one and only brewpub.

Of Course We Went to a Brew Pub!
Of Course We Went to a Brew Pub!
Last Meal in Louisiana. We'll miss the great southern cooking.
Last Meal in Louisiana.

With the continuing effects of the cold/flu, our daily activities were reduced to the usual tasks:  complete personal hygiene, check Facebook and email, go out for lunch, run an errand, and/or visit something on the list.  All that excitement was followed by returning to the condo for a nap, heating up leftovers for dinner, and attempting to stay awake for the evening news. After repeating this schedule for 7 days, moving on to Galveston, Texas, seemed promising.   Ready for sun and fun!

New Orleans, Louisiana 1/4/17 – 1/13/17

New Orleans, Louisiana:  Population =  389,617, elevation = 6 feet below sea level, average January low temp = 47, Average July high temp = 91, average sunny days = 216, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 59.3”, air quality index = 30.7, water quality index = 40, comfort index = 22, median age of residents = 39.7

The road from Florida to New Orleans runs through the boot heels of Alabama and Mississippi.  The scenery consists of mostly tall, straight pine trees and swamp.  For our crossing we had the extra added adventure of a huge storm.  Several inches of rain fell in torrents and gusts; cats and dogs, pitchforks and hammer handles.  Nearby cities were hit by tornadoes.  We braved the weather long enough to get some forgettable Mexican food, and then hunkered down in a Pascagoula hotel for the night.  We would look for our favorites, from the last time through here, tomorrow.

The next day, we were disappointed that Bozo’s was closed for painting.  Bozo sells delicious little boxes of steamed, peel and eat shrimp, right off the boat.  Then we tried to get to Jack’s By The Tracks, but, ironically, a long train was parked across the center of town, juggling cars back and forth, taking forever.  We finally did get to visit a favorite, The Shed BBQ.  This place looks like it was cobbled together out of junkyard salvage, but the BBQ and Southern sides are excellent.

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The Shed’s baby backs, tender-chewy and slathered in sauce, with baked beans and tangy potato salad.

Just before New Orleans, we slid into Slidell so we could try another favorite, Ky’s Old Town Bicycle Shop.  This is a cute little restaurant with bicycles hanging on the ceiling.  They are the home of a roast beef po’boy, fully dressed plus gravy, that is one of the best things you can do with roast beef.  Wear short sleeves because this is a three napkin sandwich.

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It looks like a regular po’boy until you pick it up and it starts dribbling gravy.

From Slidell, it is just an hour to New Orleans.  This time around, the run through the freeways was relatively painless.  We found light traffic on the freeways, moderate traffic  on the parkways, and incredibly bad, decayed, scabrous, deeply pot-holed side streets.  Given that those side streets are just barely wide enough for two parked cars and one driver in the middle, two way traffic is a game of Dodge Em and nerves, played on a washboard.

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Canal Street is one of the city’s backbones. It divides business from pleasure; downtown from French Quarter.
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Jennette Street is a typical New Orleans residential side street. Drive on potholes, park on gravel.

On our first full day in New Orleans, we took the streetcar across town to a Visitor’s Center for maps, guidebooks, coupons, calendars, and so on.  On the next day, the sky opened up again with rain and cold and even some hard freezes overnight.  More of the same the next day.  Not good for exploring so we mostly just hung out in our rental and plotted what to see and where to eat when the weather turned.

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Oh hell no! It is not supposed to get this cold here.

The next morning I woke up shivering and sweating and all of those nasty things that happen when a big bug has you in its grip.  Marylu was just getting over a cold and then she got this new bug too.  The rest of the week we pretty much hibernated, slept, read, laid about in a dull fog.

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I hate to leave New Orleans this way.  We had high hopes of seeing some of the things that make this a great city: the Mardi Gras Museum, the New Orleans Music Legends Park, the cathedrals, the cemeteries, the food, the music, just hanging out and people watching in the French Quarter.  Guess we will have to come this way again some other time.

Next up: Baton Rouge

Panama City Beach 12/19/16 – 01/02/17

Panama City Beach, Florida:  Population =  13,980, elevation = 15 feet, average January low temp = 39.8, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 239, annual snowfall = 0”, annual rainfall = 64.5”, air quality index = 65.3, water quality index = 100, comfort index = 24, median age of residents = 47.7

This time around, our journey from East Florida to West Florida runs through Nebraska.  Marylu’s younger sister passed away peacefully, in her sleep, on the 16th.  Plans are made and family members called from far and wide.  Instead of going to Panama City Beach, we push on to Pensacola for the flight to Denver followed by a drive to Sidney, Nebraska.  Siblings, children, grandchildren and cousins swarm together to laugh and cry and tell the stories of a big family growing up together in a small town.  Catholicism runs deep in this family, guided by Marylu’s brother, Father Bill, a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy.  Prayers are sent heavenward for the soul of the departed.  The ceremonies offer solace and comfort to the family.  At the cemetery, a cold wind rustles the pine trees with a whisper like the ocean waves, carrying a boat to sea.  The church basement ladies deliver the classics while the family talks a little longer, hugs a little tighter, takes more photos, all the while suggesting that Deb surely arranged this event to gather the family together for the Christmas season.  So long Deb, and best wishes for the next leg of your journey.

Our AirBNB hosts in Panama City Beach, Florida, were very sympathetic about the disruption in our travel plans and had some treats awaiting our belated arrival and even offered us a complementary two-day stay next year. Since we had explored the area last year, it helped to come back to a somewhat familiar place following the sorrowful and hectic pace of the previous few days.  There aren’t as many must do sights to see or things to do as in other locations we’ve visited.  However, there’s a lot to be said for just being beach bums, with toes in the sand, and eyes seeking treasures from the ocean.

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Our last time here, we stayed in a little, probably soon-to-be-extinct hotel on the beach.  This time around we are staying in a massive resort/timeshare with a few thousand other vacationers.  Our building is one of the many people habitats stacked up, one after another, along the beach.  All units have an ocean view; all units have parking in the ramp across the street.  The three doors that open onto the beach have restrooms, vending, and foot showers.  A pool and hot tub await those looking for a dunk without waves.

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The view from the deck
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That’s 12 floors up, 5 units from the right?
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The Front Beach neighborhood

We spend some time revisiting favorite restaurants and taprooms from last time around.  The Hofbrau Beer Garden still pours a great half liter of dunkel with their Jagerschnitzel.  Dee’s Hangout still has good spicy Cajun seafood and po-boys.  The Fishale Taphouse still has the best selection of the best craft beers.  Outlaws BBQ still has the best smoked tuna dip, although Uncle Ernie’s Bayfront Grill is a serious contender.

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Dee’s seafood platter and some catfish étouffée
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Uncle Ernie’s smoked tuna dip with a couple of house-brewed beers.
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The view from the patio at Uncle Ernie’s

Along with past favorites, we check out places new to us.  Eat My Pasty has many interesting things baked into delicate crusts.  Moe’s Original Bar has good smoky BBQ.  Local Steamer takes fresh-that-day shrimp the size of your thumb and steams them up with sausage, potatoes, and corn for a great messy meal.  The Panama City Beach Winery has an amazing variety of sweet fruit wines (orange, cherry, mango, key lime, and more) that are worth the experience.  Nivol Brewing is a new taproom that brews a good selection of beers.

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PCB Winery has won a few ribbons for their unique wines.
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Nivol is Lovin spelled backwards. As in Loving the beer.

Since we are here for the holidays, we get to enjoy all the glitter and schmaltz that is Christmas.  There are decorations and lights everywhere.  And that damn inescapable music is relentless (Humbug!)  On New Year’s Eve there is a big deal at Pier Park, a local “mall village” or whatever they call it here.  A street grid with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, a theater, and an amusement park, surrounded by parking lots.  Over the main street, they have suspended mesh nets holding 10,000 beach balls, some with prize coupons inside.  At 8:00 they release the balls and shoot off fireworks from the building tops.  At midnight the ball drops and the BIG fireworks show fires off the pier.  Once again, we have survived and enjoyed a year of life here in the USA.  Once again, we wish a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to all.

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Lobby decorations
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Lights in the park look odd to a Minnesotan. Where is the snow?
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Unleash the beach balls!

I remain a little skeptical about PCB.  It seems mostly pretty nice while we are here, but I suspect the summer would be a trip through the steamer.  The locals say the ocean breezes keep it cool.  Mostly.  Guess I would have to try check it out myself.  Maybe next year.

Up Next:  New Orleans