Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas in New Orleans

December 22-25, 2016
New Orleans, Louisiana 

Last summer we were in Montana when we first thought that New Orleans for Christmas sounded like a great idea. At the time I didn't realize we have friends here, so it's even better!

It's surprising to find Bayou Segnette State Park just off a main highway of the good sized town of Westwego. But I'm pleased to see that the park itself is a lovely setting among trees along the bayou. We have water and 50 amp hookups, asphalt pad, wooden deck, both fire pit and bbq, picnic table, and we're close to a nice showerhouse. The spaces have good separation with a lot of space behind. We have a few neighbors while here, but the park is never more than 40% full.

Site #4 Bayou Segnette State Park

Our first Armadillos - such weird little critters
Everyone who's stayed at this park has recommended the Algiers Ferry for going into New Orleans.  That's our plan as well, but it turns out that we never use it. The traffic isn't bad and except for our first day, we always find parking.

Friday Bill gets in touch with our friends who live in the area - two brothers and a sister we went to high school with have all been here for years. We arrange to see them the next day so we head into the city to check out the Superdome, home of the Saints football team.

We can see it from the highway, a big gold disc in the middle of downtown. An arena of championship game-play, also stained with the nightmares of Katrina survivors. 

This is the tenth stadium we've driven to see since our travels started, and by far the most disappointing. Because the disc we see from far away is all we see when we arrive. They obviously don't want anyone to see the stadium, it is completely enclosed with a multi-level parking lot that charges $20 no matter how long you stay. It feels very unwelcoming and we continue on.

Been there, kept going.
Downtown New Orleans is busy, but easy to navigate. From there we find our way to the French Quarter. I have no expectation that we're going to drive through it. Every picture or film I've ever seen has people, not cars on the streets. But we drive. All the streets of the Quarter. Even Bourbon Street. 

The Quarter is dwarfed by the newer Downtown. 
Even in the daylight this is a hopping place. Loud music blasts from open doors, competing with the barkers calling everyone to come in and get drunk. Literally: "We'll get you drunker than anyone else in the Quarter, come on in."

Men in gold skirts, couples with matching boas, groups of young men with plastic cups sloshing as much as they're consuming, dogs in leopard print, retirees taking photos. Some of those in their car :-)

This looks and feels and smells and sounds like New Orleans.

I love the character in the non-renovated old buildings
Next we find St Charles Street and enjoy one of the prettiest drives in any city. Giant old oak trees with beads hanging from very high branches, and handsome vintage mansions with ornate wrought iron fences. Before heading home we have a late lunch at the Cheesecake Bistro.

Hard to see the beads in the low light.....but there's lots of them!
Get it all done in one stop!

Everything's so sparkly here

Whatcha eatin' up there??
Our waiter Isiah makes them extra special :-)

Saturday we spend getting caught up with Lois, Bob and Bryan in LaRose, about an hour away. She graduated the year before me, Bob was in my class, and Bryan was a year behind Bill. It's been 40+ years since we've seen them so there's a lot of catching up to do. 

We end the evening with dinner and more visiting at the home of Lois' daughter. A perfect Christmas Eve.

Bill and Bryan

Jodee, Bob, Bill and Lois
Christmas we're planning to take the ferry but find out it's closed. Instead we drive back into the city and park next door to Broussards on Conti in the French Quarter. I wasn't able to make a reservation so we leave our name and use the wait time to explore.

Many places are closed for the holiday, and the crowd is much tamer than our first visit. It's wonderful to stroll the historic tracks, marvel at the architecture and shop windows, and especially to listen to the soulful street music.

The infamous House of Voodoo which I intend to come back to when it's open, but unfortunately I don't :-( 

She's wonderful

Giant bubbles floating down the street

Wonderful shop windows
There are several lovely hotels and restaurants here and a marked difference between their interiors and the streets they stand on. Stepping off the dirty sidewalk into Broussards is like taking off a scruffy overcoat to reveal the shiny tuxedo underneath. 

Our Christmas dinner is divine from beginning to end.

Sazarac - a lovely slow sip

Bill's filet mignon. My fish was perfect too.

This is what bread pudding should always taste like.
We get home just in time for the Steelers game, and their division title win is a great way to close our Christmas! 

Having a tree this year makes it feel more like Christmas.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This Is Mississippi Too

December 16-21, 2016
Bay St Louis, Mississippi

This coastal area is a big change from the forest along the Natchez Trace, and we're still in Mississippi! We continue to be amazed by the surprising diversity and unique beauty of every place we visit.

Beautiful. Different.
We're expecting some days of rain so with bright sunshine Friday morning we head east along the water - making our way to the city of Biloxi. The small towns are quaint, and at Gulf Port casinos line the water front. 

Gotta love beach towns
We stop for fresh shrimp. This is the second floor - note the water line from Katrina. Impossible to imagine when the water is 300 yards behind the building, and very shallow.
Biloxi Beach Babe
I take almost no photos although it is a very picturesque drive. I'm surprised by all the oak trees - and they're huge! Beach front homes change from tall, stilted wonders to stately traditionals. 

Giant oaks line the north side of the drive.
The farther west the taller the stilts.

Long Beach has dozens of these gems. Many for sale.
All have broad, beautiful views.
Signs of Katrina's destruction include remains of ruined private wooden docks and brand new public harbors. The view across the gulf is beautiful, but eleven years isn't long enough to forget the devastation. There is a lot of property for sale, some homes and many vacant lots. 

A couple days of rain and light wind give me the opportunity to do some volume cooking in the Instant Pot. I even find a place for it in the cupboard which makes me very happy :-)

On the coldest day of the week we drive to the NASA Infinity Science Center. It's not a large facility but has a surprisingly large number of things to see and do.

Martin Miller's inspiring statue greets us. Carved from a tree killed in Katrina and completed with metal from Space Shuttle turbine blades that flew in space. Pretty cool.
We start with the 3D film about birds that "use" other animals to catch their food. It includes vultures that follow lion prides and cranes that follow dolphin pods (the dolphins push the fish on shore). The detail is incredible!

The exhibits include the Stennis Space Center, NASA space program, weather monitoring, environmental protection, oceanography and astronomy. Each area has several interactive opportunities and education tables for school groups. You could spend all day just watching films in three different small theaters.

One of Neil Armstrong's flight suits. Well used.

The black dome is an inflatable surround-theater. So much fun stuff to see.
Destiny Module space station
Private sleeping quarters with laptops for emails from home. I can't get Internet in some parts of Wyoming....but in space, no problem!
Programming panel for robotics outside the station. Multi-million dollar program and they Velcro laptops to the wall.....hmmm.

Glad the motorhome doesn't use a joy-stick. I crash the landing twice :-(
American Needlepoint members hand-stitched these patches to commemorate the NASA human space flight missions. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle flights were created over 4000 cumulative hours.

The detail is wonderful and it's fun to find names we recognize.
The hurricane exhibit is informative and fun. We "build" our own storms on touch screens using high and low pressure zones - powerful stuff!
This drone flies into hurricanes to record information. We've come a long way since "Dorothy" in the movie Twister.
One of the theaters shows the films around a sphere in the center. We watch The Wanderers about our solar system.

In addition to really detailed views of the planets' surfaces, there is footage of their moons, and information on the length and variety of their seasons.

It's a great way to see the planets and asteroids and moons.....I learned a bunch of cool stuff!
We notice Buffer Zone signs while driving in - miles on either side of the center. Here we learn that about 2200 residents were displaced when NASA procured the 125,000 acres surrounding the rocket-testing location built for the Apollo program. At the center is a 3" binder with the name of every person who called the area home until January, 1963. There had to be a negative impact on the wildlife, but the acreage includes a large refuge and environmental education area. Hard to tell whether balance has been achieved.

We didn't take the bus tour to the Stennis Space Center, but it is included in the cost of the center. I had no idea there is so much research being done here, including the largest oceanography program in the country. 

This is a great place to spend a few hours - I strongly recommend it when you're in the area.

Debbie tells me more than once that we must have Royal Reds while we're in the area. The Blind Tiger on the harbor in Bay St Louis claims to have the best - let's go there!

Debbie's right, the reviewers are right. These giant shrimp are wONEderful!!

Add a dozen char-broiled oysters and a couple amber brews, and you have the perfect gulf coast meal!
The beach here is beautiful and Tessa loves running on the well groomed sand. It's very different from the pounding surf we're used to, but even the small lapping waves provide that consistent rhythm that is so relaxing. We enjoy walking along the water, exploring among the small rocks and shells.....and making a very weird discovery.

You know who, doing you know what - you know where.
Patterns in the low tide

Fluffy bird

Eyeball exploration. So nice to be in short sleeves!

Bird? Alien? Turns out it's a Sheepshead Porgy - a fish. 

This stop is one of our very favorites - and one we almost didn't make. With level concrete pads, lots of well maintained grass, brand new BBQs, clean picnic tables, FHUs with 50 amps, reasonable rates (including one free night when you pick up a players' card at the casino), and incredible views you really can't beat the Silver Slipper Casino RV Park on the Gulf.

Thursday morning we have a short drive to New Orleans.