Naples to Crystal River Fl Nov 6,2011

We bid a fond farewell to Naples but not before we enjoyed a hot breakfast at Mel’s Diner.  They were packed but managed to seat guests quickly and the coffee cup was never empty.  Their staff literally run at times.

We tried to avoid the interstate but after 2 hours on highway 41 North, it just seemed like one long main street, complete with lights.  We eventually caught Interstate 75 to make time.  It was a nice day and we had bought lunch at the Publix deli ( grocery store chain like Safeway).  We stopped at a road side visitor park south of Tampa and had our lunch and enjoyed the 27C day.

Apart from driving and deciding where to go, where to stay and what to do in the next 10 days, it was a quiet, no photo day.  We spent two hours researching where to go next and spent time booking rooms etc.  We don’t know what’s going on in New Orleans this weekend, but you won’t get a hotel room anywhere near the center of town. Therefore we will stay for three nights in the French Quarter leaving on Friday.  We expect our next stop will be Houston.

I’m not sure what happened to my first/earilier post, but most of the content was lost.  As it is late, I will not try to reproduce it. I will however close this as I did the other one. When we were returning to our room after dinner tonight, a couple came out of their rooms with two small dogs.  We stopped and visited the dogs and chatted with the owners. All I know is…..I miss Molly! 

Crystal River to Pensacola Nov 7,2011

Another no photo day today as we hit the road early and covered over 500 km. As we moved north on Highway 19 we started to leave the palms behind and get more into conifers ( mostly slash pines) and deciduous trees. We were leaving summer behind and finding early fall as the leaf trees are turning color and still have most of their leaves. The high temp was 24 C with a brisk cool wind….definately leaving summer behind.

We did find another change…the accent.  We’re back into the southern drawl and the politeness of the greeting.  One clerk when asked by a customer how she was today…responded “Blessed.”  Now that’s one I’ve not heard at home.  I’m back being called “Dear and Maam” again. 

We stopped at lunch in a Florida chain restaurnant called PoFolks. Now I don’t know if the wait staff are supposed to pronounce the food they way they are spelled on the menu or not…but they do.  Wing is “wang” and thing is “thang.” Brian and I had “Grandma’s Fried Chicken” lunch. For $5.99 a plate, we got two pieces of fried chicken (thigh and leg) choices of two sides…from a long list of options, and a choice of biscuit, bread stick or corn bread. All in with beverage, tax & tip $17.50 for lunch for the two of us.  The chicken was delicious.  You have to check out their menu on their website Joy be sure and check out the site.  They offer a reward for descriptive expressions so your hubby should win more than one prize.

We put our clocks back to central standard time,so we arrived at our hotel earlier than we thought…around 230.  We spent some time reading by the oudoor pool until the cool breeze chased us in.  I will catch up on some laundry before the end of the evening.

Tomorrow we arrive in New Orleans.  Our hotel is in the French Quarter and I am not looking  forward to driving through the city to the hotel.


Pensacola to New Orleans L. Nov 8,2011

We left Pensacola about 9 a.m. and arrived in New Orleans just after 12. Pretty good timing considering we left Florida, went through Alabama, Mississippi arriving in Louisianna.  I had concerns about finding our hotel in the French Quarter.  From our hotel in Pensacola, right turn onto Interstate 10, exit right in New Orleans, turn left, then right, make a U turn…at the hotel.  After bringing everything out of the car ( we don’t as a rule but this neighbourhood is not safe) and settling into the room, I booked several tours for tomorrow.  We’ll be busy. 

We struck out on our own for lunch and stopped two blocks away at “Eats” for lunch.  Brian had a large bowl of jumbo and we split a BLT which came with a side, so we chose red beans.  The order came complete with a pickle and a dish of rice.  Everything was very tasty but our food budget will take a beating…..I don’t expect we’ll find any food deals…however I’m pretty sure the quality will be worth it.  Brian has ended up with an upset tummy so after a quick walk over to Bourbon street, we came back to the room. 

We had seen people taking a tour in a horse carriage so we thought it may be fun, until I looked into it and found the cost to be $75 pp for a half hour……most carriages were carrying 4 people…so do the math…and they don’t even have to by gas…just oats!

Brian has been very keen to visit the football stadiums and really wanted to see the Superdome.  They don’t have tours, so we bought tickets to the college game on Thursday evening.  Should be fun, but not the same as the game in Dallas Nov 25 when Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys play.  I think he’s looking forward to the game…not the cheerleaders(yeah right)…and if Dave can arrange it, the tailgate party.

If Brian’s tummy settles we’ll head back to the action tonight…we’re only 4 blocks away.  If it doesn’t settle…I might just leave him here!  We did buy a few more souvenirs, including a mask which I’ll give to Naida. Hopefully more later.

10pm – we went out to grab a bite to eat and after a hot dog and dessert, we head over to Bourbon Street.  The hot dog vendor said he’d never seen a night so slow.  Go figure…we show up to the party…and there’s no party!  We walked down the street and did find a few people watching a street performer.  The street is wall to wall bars with a variety of music……ALL LOUD!  The bouncers were not bouncing, instead they were on the street waving people in.  Honest to goodness more bars were empty than those with patrons.  Not one place had more than a handfull of people and very few people on the street.  There was one gal showing her bootie…….but no one was looking…not even Brian!  I feel cheated….perhaps we can check it out again tomorrow night.

As we were walking back towards our hotel I overheard I man ask if it was safe to walk back about 4 blocks. The young man said, stay away from there…..that’s a bad place.  The place he was talking about was where our hotel is. The closer we got to the hotel the spookier it got and sure enough as we approached the corner near the hotel 3 young people and a pit bull are sitting there.  The dog had tried to bite a passer by… now what to do. We kept walking towards them and then gave them a very wide berth as we passed by….good thing…as one or all of them haven’t had a bath in a long time.  The dog……didn’t even look at us.  Off to bed soon…..have an early morning.

Plantation tours Nov 9,2011

Today we were to tour two plantations, take a city tour and tour the cemetary, however we we running late on the plantation tours and our bus couldn’t get us back to the city on time.  Therefore we will do the city and cemetary tours tomorrow and I am actually glad it worked out that way.  There was a fair amount of walking and Brian’s hips were giving him grief.

The planations we toured today were sugar cane plantations. It’s too wet here to grow cotton. This is creole country and many of the plantations were run by women. The position was called “President” of the plantation and the next “President” was picked by the current one, and groomed for the position for several years.  The chosen child was often the smartest one and may have begun their “apprenticeship” at the age of 13.

Sugar cane is planted every four years. Once the first crop is harvested the remaining debrie is burned and the surviving “buds” start growing again…they do this for four years. Our first tour was the “Laura Planation” named after the last “President.” Laura decided after ten years she did not wish to carry on this way of life, married and moved north.  After several years she sold the land in the late 1800s, turning her back on her Creole heritage and all that went with it. In 1936, in her 70s she wrote her memoirs and in the 1990s they were discovered and published. During our tour much of what we learned about the life and times of those living on this planation came from the book “Memories of the Old Plantation Home” by Laura Locoul Gore.  You can bet I bought a copy on the way out. 

The planation was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair.  It was purchased in 1993 by Norman and Sand Marmillion who planned to restore the home and surrounding gardens and open it to the public.  The home has been restored 3 times due to hurricane and then fire damage.

The tour, the guide and stories were very well done and it you are ever in the area I would encourage you to visit the “Laura Plantation.” The tour is exceptionally interesting thanks to Laura’s Memoires.

After we completed our tour, we drove 5 minutes to “Oak Alley” plantation.  The tour is much shorter but the house is grander and was lived in until the 1990s.  The grandchildren live near by and run a bed and breakfast on the property as well as cafe and gift shop.  The home and 25 acres is owned by the historical society that operates the property &  tours.

The grounds has 28 live oak trees estimated to be 300+ years old.  They really are magnificent.  This “alley” of oak trees often hosts weddings.  Can you just imagine walking down this aisle?

We have seen a number of tours to see alligators, however unlike the Everglades where you go through the mangroves, here you tour through the swamp land in an airboat. As we have seen our share of gators, we decided not to take a swamp tour…but travelling through the swamps might be fun.

As we were starting out this morning, the bus stopped at several hotels in the area to pick up passengers and afford us the opportunity to see some of the high rises damaged by Katrina and since abandoned.  One of the most tragic sights for me, was one ( of 4) abandoned hosptials. For those of us who have worked in a hosptial, it’s like a little city all in itself and to see a once proud hospital with decaying walls and broken windows, now derelict, really brought home the devastation of Katrina. The tour guide indicated the area was desperately short of medical people and the loss of so many talented nurses and Doctors have severely impacted local residents.

After our tour was done we were dropped off in the French Quarter,  We went looking for a drink and something to eat.  We stoped at Pat O Brien’s for a drink.  A while later we stopped in to grab a bite to eat in a cafe offering Po Boy sandwiches.  Brian had a hot dog….a weiner in a bun… and packages of relish and mustard while I opted for jambalaya.  Neither was a good choice…most of mine ended up in the dumpster. Even though it was only 430pm we head back to the hotel and found Santa Claus on our way!

I am surprized to see so many dogs in this area.  It’s not unusual to see two to three people per block walking their dog on Bourbon street. I guess people live close by.  However this dog seems to be enjoying the bar!

In the morning we will be taking the city tour which includes a tour throught the devastated Ninth Parrish. The city is slowly rebuilding with construction going on everywhere, but the stories the locals tell are harrowing. Though the French Quarter was spared, it was severely impacted by the loss of tourism.  From what I have seen, tourists are back and the hope has been restored to the city.

New Orleans City & Cemetary Tour Nov 10,2011

We took the Cemetary and City tour this morning.  It was very windy overnight…blowing in a cold front.  The temp this morning was 53 brrrrrrr.  When this area was first developed the dead were buried in shallow graves…..shallow because the water table is high so at 5′ you hit water. After a flooding of the Mississippi, the buried bodies surfaced and went down the river. Some of the residents were from Tahiti and told them about above ground tombs used in their country or origin, and the practise was adopted. The tombs are family owned (wealthy families as a rule) and the tomb is used for all family members.  When someone dies, the face plate, and brick wall are removed and the new casket slid in place.  In these tombs there is a pit under the structure and as the body and casket decays, the pieces simply fall through the iron rods the casket rests on.  People laid to rest in these tombs are not preserved in any way.  The heat and moisture within the tomb decompose it’s contents within a year.  Therefore if a family member was predeceased by someone, by less than a year, the body could not be placed into the tomb until 1 year and 1 day had passed.  The tombs on the left are for the less wealthy…..only one body at a time, as with the others, however instead of a pit to catch the remains,  the back of the wall has a large shaft and a pit at the bottom.  When a new casket was to be placed inside, they take a rake and push whatever pieces are left to the back so they fall down the back and the new casket slid in. Now you know where the expression  “getting the shaft” came from! As many residents in the old city were Catholic they didn’t beleive in cremation hense the need for a resolution for the dead.

Following the cemetary tour we toured the ninth ward of New Orleans. This is the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. It was amazing to see how many homes have been restored.  As this area had never been flooded before, flood insurance wasn’t required and many people were covered with homeowner insurance.  We didn’t see many vacant lots and only a few homes as seen here.

Over the years since Katrina, many projects have been put together to rebuild the 9th ward.  Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity rebuilt a 4 block area with homes like this one on the left.  As you can see, the new building codes ensure the houses are built 4′ above ground to lessen any flood damage in the future.

Our tour guide told us the former mayor did not push for the affected areas / buildings to be removed and refer to the remaining buildings as a blight. In order to rid the neighbourhoods of these eye sores, the buildings are visited by someone from the city.  If there is no evidence of any attempt to restore the building, they place a sign with a large red X on it with the date, to either renovated, or the city will remove the building and the lot sold with the money going to the city.  In the after math of the hurricane and the desire to resolve issues quickly some people were paid out for homes they didn’t own, or simply took the money and ran.  If the hurricane wasn’t enough grief, often those trying to restore their home were ripped off by unsavory contractors and thieves.  It was usual to return to a home being renovated, to find the gyprock, wood, tools anything….had been torn off and stolen overnight.  Our guide said he had to drive to Houston to buy supplies for his house repair. 

If you look closely at the photo on the left, the blue writing on the house, means it was inspected right after the flood and the house found to be uninhabitable …but also no bodies found in the house. Most often this info was written on the door and now some of these doors are becoming collector items.    As you can see by the photo on the right, renewal is still in progress. There are however several high rise buildings and hospitals in the down town area sitting derelict and need to be imploded to make way for something else. I’m sure there are issues why these buildings remain untouched.  Our hotel is across the street from Louis Armsrong park.  The city just settled a lawsuit with the contractor who was to repair the park, so parts of the park remain closed.

In addition to the loss of property the city has experienced a loss in population from 460,000 to roughly 280,00 now. (according to our tour guide.)

We toured the French Quarter and the downtown area before moving to the Garden district.  The photo on the left is an example of the beautiful architecture to be found. As we were driving past these regal homes we learned many hollywood stars own homes in New Orleans and that state tax laws have allowed breaks for the movie industry and many movies and television shows are now filmed here.

We’re off to the college football game at the Superdome.  More later.


Visit to the Mercedes Benz Superdome Nov 10,2011

Brian got his wish…he got into the Superdome.  Tulane was playing Houston ( College ) and Tulane were the underdogs.  While it was fun to be part of the evening, the stadium was virtually empty….so not much atmosphere.

Mercedes Benz has purchased the naming rights to the Superdome within the past month.  This stadium was damaged during Katrina and thousands of people were stuck here when they came to the stadium for protection, only to have the stadium surrounded by water and trapped them.  The city and state, plus the NFL all pulled together to get the stadium up and running a year after Katrina.  All the renovations and improvements are now complete and the Saints new banner is the icing on the cake.  We left the game at half time and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.  I got chatting with the gal at the customer service desk and she was laughing when I told her I was from Canada and I was frozen!  She didn’t buy it when I told her the damp cold was worse than our dry cold.  I get it…..that she didn’t get it!

We’re off to Houston tomorrow.  Brian wanted to tour their football stadium and also the Johnson space center.  Not sure how long we’ll stay or where we will go after Houston.

11-11-11 Driving Trip from New Orleans to Houston Tx

As we left New Orleans this morning, we passed this derelict high rise near the downtown area.  This one looks in much better shape than the others we have seen so perhaps they can do something this one.  I expect all the mechanical systems would have to be replaced to start with.

As this is largely a driving day I thought I would post a few photos taken along the way. We travelled through swamp, over rivers, across numerous bridges, past farm land and oil refineries up the wazoo. The traffic was heavy today ( likely due to it being a holiday) and in particular the truck traffic.  The law enforcement  officers were busy and out in numbers. I’m not sure at what speed they pull you over.  I generally go 5 to 7 mph over the limit, but I get passed like I am standing still. You can appreciate our car is rather full and often we see the law removing everything from a vehicle.  They’d have fun with our stuff!

We ran into roads built over swamp areas in Florida and now every state since.  I can’t imagine the men having to work in this environment building roads.  I understand in the days before insect spraying, you could literally wipe a handful off your face in summertime.  Ugh…to say nothing of the heat and humidity…and perhaps dodging critters…like snakes, panthers and alligators.  To them I offer up my thanks in recognition of their labour.

 As we drive along we have seen quite a few road signs…some very creative as the one above. As we drive along th Gulf Coast we see legal firms offering their services to sue BP for the oil spill and for damages someone may be entitled to.

As we travel the road, we have seen more agriculture today.  We saw fields of rice, cane and hay.  This photo is taken of cane debrie being burned off. 

We stopped for lunch in the city of “Sulfur” and went to a local mall.  The hole in the wall Chinese cafe had an all you can eat buffet & drink for $7 per person.  Great deal and the food pretty good.

You may have to double click the photo on the left to really see the detail on the bridge railing.  Take a close look…you’ll see two crossed pistols.  We must be in Texas now!

I don’t know when I have seen the number and size of oil refineries as we did today.  I think I have a better understanding of the product shortage when they have to slow production due to hurricanes. I had no idea of the number of refineries in this area.

We arrived in the Houston area around 2 pm.  We are staying in Seabrook, just outside of Houston but near the Johnson Space Center.  We took a drive around stopping at a nearby marina and boardwalk. The area has some upscale homes and property.  We found a nice little vacant lot, perfect for a winter home.

 This photo on the left is the property frontage facing the water.  The dock is just waiting for a boat!

We drove around looking for the NASA sight we hope to tour tomorrow. We did find it, however drove into the wrong entrance.  We were met by three BIG burly men who were not happy to see us.  They did however give us directions for the morning.  Apparently we will have a security check ( I think I can’t take my purse) and will be boarding a bus to tour the sight.

This photo on the right is another view of the vacant lot…this time taken from the waterfront looking back towards the road.  Now if only I can win the lottery….big time.