Saturday, May 31, 2008

Four Dead Armadillos and The Big Easy

Posted by Melissa
Yep - four dead armadillos. That is what we saw on the side of the road in the first hour or so after crossing the state line into Louisiana heading towards New Orleans. AKA Norlins, The Big Easy, The Crescent City or as we soon found out - The Big Stinky - well that was actually only Bourbon Street!

Our hotel, Place d'Armes was perfectly located across the street from St Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. Check out the view from our balcony.
It had a typical interior courtyard so as soon as you walked through the front door corridoryou felt like you were in your own private oasis.
It was also just a block and half to Cafe du Monde for beignets. These puppies are served HOT and are wonderful. Is it possible to have too much powdered sugar? I don't think so!

The French Quarter is a great walking area. Everything was within just about 5 blocks of our hotel. We found big differences though right in the quarter - check out Bourbon Street compared to Royal Street - just one block away.

Bourbon Street- Very loud, stinky - pee with a slight note of puke. Yuck.

Royal Street - antique stores, high end jewelry stores, and quiet hotels

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are in the middle of the French Quarter facing the mighty Mississippi.
The Patalba buildings that flank Jackson square on the east and west were built by the Baroness Pontalba who also built Jackson square. She was major force in creating what we now see. She even built and landscaped Jackson Square which was previously used as a military ground (it was called Place d'Armes - just like our hotel). She was a pretty amazing woman who survived a murder attempt when her father in law shot her four times. She lived to old age with four lead balls in her body which caused lead poisoning. She built the Patalba buildings after returning from France where she had been shot. What a woman!

We took the St. Charles Trolley line out the the garden district and walked around.
We appreciated the open windows and slight breeze in the trolley as we are still not used to the heat and humidity. I did not know that even straight hair can frizz in this kind of weather!

The French Quarter is the original town and was built by French and Spanish colonists. The garden district was built by "American" or people that were moving to the area from the US prior to the Louisiana purchase. The French and Spanish built their homes right on the street with private courtyards on the interior. The Americans built there houses back from the street with their yards in the front. Apparently the French and Spanish did not get along with the Americans so there was a neutral ground area which is now the median going down canal street where they could meet up. Among other things the French and Spanish thought the Americans were stupid for building houses without interior courtyards so that they had no privacy. I tend to agree as I love the private courtyard idea.

That said - the houses in the Garden District were absolutely beautiful.

No, Kathryn, we did not buy a house. We did not even pick up a flyer!! Amazing, I know.

We enjoyed a carriage ride with a colorful character who narrated our ride and stopped in front of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for curbside carriage service. We enjoyed our first ever Hurricane. Boy do those go down easy.

Here is a little video of musicians in front of the Cathedral.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Austin, Texas

Our hosts in Austin - Bettina and Eric
Posted by Thane
We arrived in Austin on a Friday night to be guests of Bettina and Eric. I worked with Bettina on several Bare Necessities cruises. She visited us in California for a few days last year. Bettina showed us around the Bare Necessities office, a cool old house in a residential neighborhood with Steve and his gang madly stuffing envelopes for an upcoming cruise. Nice Obama poster Tom!

Eric was working late at his bike shop, Austin Bikes . It was Memorial Day weekend and there was a triathlon in town. Bettina was serving drinks at a club that night so she gave us a couple of recommendations for dinner. We ended up at one of the many vegan restaurants she knows in Austin. I'm thinking these are a rarity in the rest of Texas. Great food at Veggie Heaven and ya got to try the pearl tea with black tapioca balls in it.

The next day Bettina, Melissa and I went to the LBJ Museum. What a great place. I thought I would have been there less than an hour but we stayed for three, at least. What a powerhouse he was and always batting for the little guy, whether it was education, food for the undernourished, jobs, or civil rights. His"Great Society" program became the agenda for Congress: aid to education, protection of civil rights (including the right to vote), urban renewal, Medicare, conservation, beautification, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, promotion of the arts, and consumer protection. If only other Texan presidents could be as effective as he was. Sad to think that some people (including me before visiting this museum) only recall him for the mess he inherited in Vietnam.

The library includes all of the records from his presidency..

a section devoted to Lady Bird...

and a great exhibit on the Civil Rights movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After having lunch at another vegan cafe, Dhaba Joy, we went to the State Capitol. I am now steeped in Texas history from The Alamo to the present.

We met Eric for dinner at Tom's favorite Thai place and then walked over to the Congress bridge to see the nightly bat exodus. I couldn't get a picture of the bats but here's a pic of all the people watching the bats.

We walked back from the bridge in the warm evening air, listening to the sounds of live music wafting from the clubs, to Eric's house to be greeted by the two Border collies and a pint of pistachio gelato.

Sunday morning Eric was up early for his 60 mile training ride while Bettina, Melissa and I walked over through the neighborhoods to a beautiful park where Barton Springs feeds a huge swimming pool.

From there we hiked over to Casa de Luz, a macrobiotic, vegan, organic mecca for brunch. mmmmmmmmmmmm

Thank you Bettina and Eric - and also Wrigley and Sadie - for a great Austin Weekend.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

San Antonio & Alamo

Posted by Melissa
I have to start out with - TEXAS IS HOT!!! We are really thinking that our decision to move the the Pacific Northwest was a REALLY GOOD one after experiencing over a week in south west New Mexico and Texas! 59 degrees or so sounds really inviting.

That said, we loved San Antonio. We stayed in a cute Victorian style Bed & Breakfast right on the Riverwalk, The Inn on the Riverwalk.

Here's our balcony

The view from our balcony was spectacular. This is the river just below our balcony. We also had an awesome view of the downtown night skyline, but alas - none of those pics turned out.

It was about 3 blocks south of the busy part of the walk so it was quiet at night but also easy access to everything. The riverwalk is a beautiful gem, hidden just below street level. It was created early this century after a significant flood. Some townspeople wanted to shunt the river underground into a tunnel but a farsighted planner convinced them to create this wonderful oasis.

This was the view from our boat tour of the river.
We enjoyed Mexican food at tables right on the river plus Margaritas with lunch and dinner - I couldn't resist a slushy cold drink with temps soooo hot.
Several people recommended that we watch the IMAX movie about the Alamo before visiting. Well, you didn't have to twist my arm to get me to sit in an air conditioned studio for an hour, so off we went. It was great and we got a thorough education about the Alamo before heading over there. In fact, we now know more about Texas history than we ever expected. Did you know that Texas has flown the flag of SIX different governments?

The Alamo is now a beautiful, peaceful place with huge live oaks and shaded grounds. It was sad to think that so many died here. There were less than 200 Texans, including names we know well like Davy Crocket and James Bowie, against almost 4,000 Mexican troups under General Santa Anna. All of the Americans died. I would highly recommend a visit there - after viewing the movie.

San Fernando Cathedral was another highlight. Construction started on this church in 1731. It was originally a relatively simple spanish colonial style but a French Gothic addition was completed in 1873 so it has a bit of a split personality.

A beautiful painting just inside the front door honors the women of the community who were the main force in getting this church built. It depicts the three Marys who arrived at Christ's empty tomb, but pictures them as a Spanish/American women, a Native American woman, and a European woman.

The interior of the church was so beautiful - I just have to include several pics.

We closed out our trip to San Antonio with a visit to the Witte Museum to see a special exhibit of Bodies Revealed. We had wanted to see this exhibit for a long time - it was in the Sacramento area a while back. The exhibit includes actual human bodies that have been preserved and allow you to see muscles, tendons, heart, lungs, etc. No pics were allowed but here is a link to their website:

Up next: Austin

Monday, May 26, 2008

Texas Hill Country

Posted by Thane

Hours and hours of dry plains in Texas finally leads you into a prettier, wetter area called the "Hill Country". Leaving the Walmart of Pecos behind and finding a cuter little town like Fredericksburg was a great relief. I know a couple of people from this area but alas, Tom and Nancy were in Tahiti and Gina was down at the local "Burning Man".

We were on our own, with a walking tour of the town from the local visitor center, discovering the town and local German influence. This town was settled by German farmers in 1846. There were many German restaurants, our favorite was Der Lindenbaum,

as well as bakeries and upscale clothing and furniture stores all on boardwalk style, covered sidewalks.

My favorite store was an old five and dime that had just about everything you could possibly need.
Just an hour or so out of San Antonio this was a beautiful little town to spend a day in.

Aliens, Ghost Towns, & Caves,

Posted by Melissa
We headed out for San Antonio, Texas, but the drive was too long to make in one day. After checking out the map we found that Carlsbad, New Mexico was a good mid point stop. We also found that the Carlsbad Caverns are another UNESCO World Heritage site and after our great experience at the Taos Pueblo (another UWH)we did not want to miss this one.

The road between Santa Fe and Carlsbad (and on to San Antonio) is about the ugliest and most boring road I have ever driven. The towns all appear to be just drying up with more closed businesses than open ones. At one point when we needed gas, we drove though a town that had 8 closed gas stations and 3 open ones. We also noted that this particular town was listed on our map while Crawford (Bush's hometown)was not. Is this god forsaken place bigger than Crawford?

Too make matters worse, these pathetic towns were spaced about 1 - 1.5 hours apart. Just think, if you lived in one of these dried up little towns, you really have no place that you can drive to that is any better. Overall we found southeast NM and west Texas to be the most desolate place we have ever been.

One bright, or should I say "glowing" spot along the way was Roswell - home to the Alien Museum and the only "known" landing spot in the US of an Alien Spaceship. We could not resist stopping here. It was a cheesy as you would expect. Our favorite scene was the alien autopsy that was created from a Nurse's notes who claimed to be present for it.
Carlsbad Caverns was absolutely spectacular. The main room is so large that it took us about 1 hour to walk around. The 58 degree temperature was wonderful after spending over a week in the Arizona and New Mexico deserts. We are really looking forward to Bellingham where that is a typical temperature.
This one was Thane's favorite stalagmite. Hmmmm
Is this someone who just couldn't stand living in this wobegon place and decided to go underground?
We bought our National Parks pass here and plan to make good use of it in the next fews weeks.

We are looking places to visit on the East Coast - from about South Carolina to Washington DC. Any of you out there have any good suggestions? Big towns, little towns, parks, and other don't miss or special places? Please write to us or call us on our cell phones.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The High road to Santa Fe

Posted by Thane

We decided since we took the low road along the Colorado river in to Taos that we should take the high road out.

Taos is at 7000' and the high road out winds through the mountains at close to 10,000' with beautiful forests and vistas of the snowpeaks. This road goes through many 300 year old Spanish colonial towns with original adobe houses,churches and shops.

The Sugar Nymph cafe in Penasco, the chapel in Las Trampas and the little town of Chimayo were our favorites.

In the sanctuary in Chimayo there was a hole in the floor called "el posito" where there was a trowel that you could use to dig up the healing dirt.

Apparently it works, families were filling their zip-lock baggies full. Melissa and I just got enough to take in our hands.

The high road leads you back in to Santa Fe where we stayed 2 nights. We checked out the town square when we got there and started planning our visit.

Melissa went into the Palace of the Governors, the original seat of government. It is a 400 year old adobe, that is adjacent to the square. I hung out at the square listening to live music and a "free Tibet" campaign.

We both visited the Cathedral. We also visited a chapel with a "miraculous staircase"(no visible support), and quite a few art galleries.The staircase is in a chapel that was built for a girls school. Apparently the workers didn't realize that girls would be using the choir loft and they included only a ladder to reach the choir loft which was about 24' above the chapel floor.

The nuns, out of money, prayed for an answer. An anonymous carpenter showed up and offered to build the staircase. He used only a saw and a hammer (no nails). The carpenter left, leaving no bill for his work.

Santa Fe has the 3rd most art galleries of any city in the world. Yep, with a population of just under 70,000 Santa Fe is a small city but has some of the best art galleries in the world. It has always been a Mecca of The Arts and is the third largest market in the United States for fine art.