Beignets, a river boat cruise & Preservation Hall-Day 3

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
Day 3

Tuesday, February 21

This morning I found out what a beignet is! Seems as though ever since we signed up to go on this tour to New Orleans, that was what everyone familiar with the city and the culture there had talked about most often: “Can’t wait to have some beignets!” I had been told that there was quite a bit of powdered sugar involved, and I was curious to find out.

Anyway, after breakfast, once we all loaded up on the bus (yes, our car would remain parked at the hotel for the remainder of the New Orleans tour), we made our way into New Orleans, through morning traffic on unfamiliar highways and byways, past the Superdome and other city landmarks, en route to our daily drop-off spot on the corner of Front and Bienville streets, just outside the French Quarter and right alongside the Mississippi River.

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Photo: sweetsavant.com

The pleasant morning weather welcomed us as we strolled down Decatur Street toward the green and white striped awning where the famous Cafe DuMonde French Market Coffee Stand awaited, directly across from the famous Jackson Square. Even from a distance, we could tell that the place was packed and a line had formed outside the wrought iron fence surrounding the place.

Getting a table was first come, first serve, so we were immediately on alert. While we waited, we chatted with a friendly couple from San Diego and ended up sharing a table with them. As soon as we “claimed” an open table, a young girl cleared the mess of powdered sugar and splashed coffee from the previous customers and then took our order. A few minutes later the beignets and coffee arrived, and the four of us quickly tied-in to the fried dough squares under mounds of confectioner’s sugar! They were the perfect complement to the hot café au lait chicory flavored coffee served there.

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Photo: yelp.com

 

After twenty minutes or so of indulging in powdered sugar delights and tasty coffee, as well as good conversation with our San Diego companions, it was time to brush ourselves off of the powdered sugar and make way for other hungry folks waiting. We bid farewell to our table mates as they were on their way in another direction, and we set off to explore the French Quarter on our own.

We spent the next several hours walking about various streets of the French Quarter–in and out of the many shops– and ending up on the famed Bourbon Street. By this time, it was time to find somewhere to eat lunch, so we wandered back up to Decatur Street where we’d earlier passed a restaurant named Cafe Maspero, and we had thought it looked like a good place to eat.

Neither of us was disappointed in our choice, as we had a tasty seafood lunch. Afterwards, we walked over to the Natchez Steamboat Wharf to wait to board for our afternoon river cruise. This was an excellent time to “people watch” and sit in the shade and listen to the loud calliope located high atop the Natchez. The atmosphere was wonderful, helping us become immersed in New Orleans culture and lifestyle, especially as we set off down river for a two-hour cruise a short time later.Unknown-1.jpeg

Once back at the wharf, we walked the short distance back to Decatur Street to the Crescent City Brewhouse for our evening’s meal. Each meal with the tour group provided us with opportunities to get to know each other, and it was one of the great rewards of being on this trip

Once again, the service and the food were excellent! Carolyn and I both had a catfish selection, followed by a Cajun specialty: bread pudding. Yum!

images-2.jpegAfter the meal, everyone was free to spend more time in and about the French Quarter. Some of us decided to head toward St. Peter Street where Preservation Hall is located. Just as its name says, Preservation Hall was established in 1961 “to preserve, perpetuate, and protect traditional New Orleans Jazz.” (http://preservationhall.com/hall/) To get tickets for the 8 p.m. show, we had to wait in line beginning at 7. In the meantime, we had a couple of cold beverages in Pat O’Brien’s next door to Preservation Hall, and we enjoyed the “dueling” pianos while we awaited the 7 o’clock hour.

As the evening turned out, the seemingly long wait, and the $15 apiece for tickets, were well worth it. Even though we were crammed into a very small and well-worn “hall,” the music that the Preservation Jazz Band All-Stars provided was beyond wonderful. And, as in all good performances, time flew right on by and the show came to a close. images-1.jpeg

We found our way out and enjoyed a brisk walk several blocks back to where the bus awaited to haul our tired selves back to the hotel. Our first full day in NOLA had been packed with lots of good things, and we looked forward to what the next day would offer. I drifted off to sleep that night with songs such as Tailgate Ramble pleasantly rambling around in my head!

On to Metairie, Louisiana-Day 2

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
DAY 2

Monday, February 20

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep and a tasty breakfast, we were on the road once more shortly before 8 a.m. Our ultimate destination today would be our hotel in Metairie, Louisiana, but en route we would pass by many unfamiliar names of towns and cities. It’s always fun to venture through previously un-traveled areas, and this was, indeed, new territory for us!

AR19790551t100550.jpgMost of the morning we rolled through Arkansas and discovered a McDonald’s that provided free coffee. Can’t argue with that. Soon after, approaching Memphis, we crossed over the bridge on the Mississippi River into Tennessee, but only for a brief time as Mississippi loomed just ahead.

Cities with names like Jackson, Grenada, and McComb began to appear on the green Interstate signs as we continued south toward Louisiana. We figured that it would take us most of the afternoon to click off the Mississippi miles before arriving at the Louisiana Welcome Center where we planned to snap a picture of the Louisiana welcome sign.

What made things even better was the beautiful weather that had decided to settle in with us. I had donned shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, which would be my standard “uniform” for the duration of the trip. Long pants have never been my preferred choice of attire!

IMG_1997.jpgTrue to form, one mile after leaving Mississippi, we came to the I-55 Welcome Center near

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Photo: Louisiana Dept. of Culture Recreaton & Tourism

Kentwood. One of the nicest Welcome Centers we’ve experienced, this one provided a wonderful break from all of the miles driven and the ones still remaining. Plus, the good folks there offered free coffee!

After a walk around the beautifully landscaped area and a coffee break, we resumed our “push” southward to Metairie.

By late afternoon, we were getting close. The landscape had become swampy and rather desolate looking. I-55 ended by joining up with I-10 East, and we were now driving on a 23-mile long elevated stretch of highway that skirted around Lake Ponchratrain. It was a never-ending scene of water and vegetation, a perfect outdoorsmen’s paradise!

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Photo: DSchwen.com

This road led us right into Metairie and the Ramada, just off Exit 228. Carolyn and I checked in, again ahead of our fellow travelers who we’d meet up with at the restaurant in a while. For now, though, we were content to get settled into our room, walk around the hotel, and be out of the car for a while.

We looked forward to meeting the tour group at Piccadilly’s Restaurant, a short distance

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Piccadilly”s Restaurant

from our hotel, and to relax with a good meal.

Day 2 certainly had been a good one, and the “real” touring would begin in the morning as we’d pay our first visit to the Crescent City.

The road trip south-Day 1

In a post back in January, I wrote about our upcoming road trip/vacation to New Orleans, followed by our continuing on to Florida for a few weeks, beginning on February 19. (Read it here). We returned home to Illinois on Monday, March 13, after logging over 4,000 miles. The next several posts are highlights and summaries of our adventures and experiences in the Crescent City and in the Sunshine State.
DAY 1

Sunday, February 19

We left Cortland, Illinois, just before 8 a.m. and headed out Rt. 38 to I-39 for the first leg of the journey south. Today’s destination was Dyersburg, Tennessee, where we would meet up with the bus tour group at the Grecian Steakhouse restaurant before checking into the Sleep Inn hotel for the night.

We had lots of fog for quite a while until we got closer to Springfield. Despite the fog, the temperatures were rather mild as we continued on through  St. Louis and down through

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Approaching the famous St. Louis Arch

Missouri to Arkansas and then into Tennessee.

There were no issues along the way, and we enjoyed the many rural sights of Arkansas and crossing into Tennessee. We also made a stop at the Tennessee Welcome Center near Reel Foot State Park to pick up some pamphlets and other information about Elvis and Graceland for Grandson Matthew’s school presentation that he’d be doing in a few weeks.

Before long, we arrived at the hotel and checked in. Right about that time, we heard from Scot, the tour company owner who was on the bus, that they would meet us at the Grecian Steakhouse, conveniently located right off the interstate in Dyersburg, within the hour. Good timing!

The restaurant was a large smorgasbord with plenty of choices, which we enjoyed immensely. As such, I found the restaurant’s name quite curious. At any rate, we all had plenty to eat. Then it was back to the hotel for the night.

Up early on Monday, Carolyn and I had the complimentary hotel breakfast and then hit the road once more for New Orleans, another long eight-hour drive. As before, we pulled out before the tour bus did, giving us another head start on the day—another sun-filled one at that! And we both looked forward to enjoying all of the new places along the way we’d pass by on our way down I-55.

Way down yonder…

images-1.jpegNow that January has wound its way down to being nearly finished, we will be eagerly counting the days before we pack up the Equinox and make haste to the south once again on February 19. Our ultimate destination will be Fort Myers to spend some time with our daughter. Before that, though, we’ll spend a week in New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras and then motor on over to Florida and see some friends in various spots as we work our way farther south.

Having never been to New Orleans—not even for spring break all those years ago in college—I’m looking forward to the five days we’ll be spending there. We’re actually going to be part of a bus trip leaving out of Northern Illinois University right next door to us, but we’re not traveling down or back on the bus. Instead, we’ll drive ourselves and hook up with the tour group the first night out at dinner and overnight near Memphis, Tennessee.

We’ll continue on the next morning and meet up with the bus once again for dinner that evening near New Orleans and check into our hotel for the week. We’ll leave our car at the hotel the rest of the time and do all the touring, etc., with the group on the bus. Friday morning, when the bus folks board for the return trip back to Illinois, we’ll point our car toward Florida.

We had a pre-trip meeting last week, and it sounds like a terrific time awaits us. I’m especially looking forward to some wonderful Creole cuisine and authentic Louisiana hospitality. All of the pageantry and pre-Mardi Gras activity will be a pretty good indoctrination for us. Each day there is plenty of “free” time in the French Quarter, and there are also several tours and side events planned. I will have the MacBook Pro along and look forward to chronicling each day’s events on this blog.

As of this writing, we don’t have a “set” itinerary once we leave New Orleans. We know that we want to stop to see one of Carolyn’s cousins in the Clearwater Beach area and some good friends in The Villages. From there, we may be hopscotching here and there en route to Fort Myers.

Plus, Major League Baseball spring training will be in action during this time, so I have a wide array of teams and venues to choose from hither and yon. It’s been a few years since Iimages-2.jpeg took in some spring games, and I’m very much excited to have that opportunity to do so this year. Sarasota, Bradenton, Fort Myers to name but a few from which to pick. Of course, while in Bradenton, we’ll no doubt stop by Mixon’s Fruit Farm and enjoy the gloriously refreshing orange juice samples and orange swirled ice cream cones!

Writing this, I’m beginning to get the “urge” to pull out the suitcases and start with the packing, although there’s still time for all of that. But with the passing of January, February promises to be full of excitement and a time to get away—for a time—from the winter blahs on another fabulous road trip. I love it when the road ahead is calling and the days of warmth in the sun and orange swirled ice cream cones beckon. Time to start packing!

 

 

Way down yonder in New Orleans
In the land of the dreamy scenes
There’s a Garden of Eden
You know what I mean

Read more:  Louis Armstrong – Way Down Yonder In New Orleans Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Off to that make-believe world…

It’s early morning—still dark out. Up early, coffee made, and the need to write coursing its way through me. Music from Internet Radio’s Cinemix plays softy in my ear buds, providing the background soundtrack to my writing efforts this morning.

I’ve been up since shortly after five. I checked the iPhone for any overnight e-mail or texts (not much to talk about there) and a quick scan of Facebook. Frightening just how greater the divide in this country is becoming!

Even so, I will try to shut all of that out while, at the same time, immersing myself in a world of fiction, where characters act and talk and think, hoping to move my story along to a logical and good conclusion.

The beauty of writing make-believe stuff is all about control. We control everything that happens in that world, and, ultimately, the outcome and the actions leading to that outcome. Were it so easy in the non-fiction world!

After a couple of hours, when the writing stint is finished, I will come face to face once more with that non-fiction world where my usual tasks and errands await.

Sadly, my time with my characters and their story won’t alter any of the growling and griping by so many people (of all political persuasions) who are bent on ripping and tearing this country apart!

The first light of the new day is showing itself. I like to believe that there are still promises of good things ahead on this day, beginning with a visit to my make-believe world with my make-believe characters. And that’s where I’m off to now…

Here’s to a good day to you all!2015-09-15 06.34.40.jpg

Silent resolutions & good things to come…

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Photo: weknowyourdreams.com

Here it is, the last day of 2016. New Year’s Eve morning has slipped right in on us once again. It always seems to do that while we’re still “recovering” from the busy times of Christmas a week ago.

Suddenly, it’s here! We begin to reflect on all that has taken place—good and bad—for the past twelve months and to make resolutions and determinations that we’re certain we’ll take seriously this time, prompting thoughts such as will this, in fact, be the year that we actually stick to our low-carb diet, get more daily exercise, publish the next book, or establish world peace? Well…

I’ve never been too much of a New Years resolution-kind-of-guy, mainly because I know me too well! And I’m not one to make a big deal about what I resolve to do or accomplish in the new year. But as the old year is ending and the new one is waiting in the wings, I always have a few things I tell myself I need to do a better job with or how I can be better in so many ways.  As such, there will never be any fanfare on what I would like to improve upon for the next 365 days. So any resolutions I’m planning will not be published here or anywhere else until after the fact!

Today is also special for another reason. Our daughter’s birthday is today. Born in 1980 (it really can’t be that long ago!) she came into this world on a bitterly cold New Years Day, and life has been an adventure for her ever since. Though we won’t be able to celebrate today with her, we will be going to Florida in February for a week’s stay with her.

New Years Eve plans?

My morning will consist of coffee, early morning reading, and finishing this blog post. Afterwards, it will be time to head outside for my twenty-minute walk and enjoy the 34° morning air and bright sunshine. Most of our snow has diminished during this past week, so the streets and sidewalks are bare and dry.

Next, I will send birthday wishes to daughter Laura and plan to call her later in the day when I know she’ll be available. Then, I’ll drive down to our son’s to watch some hockey and football for a while and, of course, see what the two grandsons are up to. Before I know it, it will be time to head back up home and get ready to go in for our annual New Years Eve gathering with friends at their home. It’s pretty low-key but a good time all the same. Good snacks, laughs, and discussion of various topics will be the order of the evening.

And then we’ll drive back out to our little town here in northern Illinois and watch the last few minutes of 2016 dissolve into 2017. There are so many good things in this world that have happened, and we shouldn’t forget them, even though much tragedy and sadness seemed to be everywhere in the year to which we’re bidding farewell.

I sincerely hope that the new year will bring good things to family and friends, wherever they may be. On this final day of 2016, I will celebrate all that I have and make a few resolutions (that I’ll keep to myself!) and remember all of the good that has come my way.

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Photo: letsdogoodthings.org

Happy New Year, all!