Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Exploring Tucson!

On our several trips through Arizona, we've never had the opportunity to visit Tucson, until now.  Not knowing when we would pass this way again, we decided to take a little time and see what this "second largest Arizona city" had to offer.  I had heard & read a little about it and was intrigued, so wanted to check it out.

We were so glad we did!  What a charming city!  I loved the beautiful blend of the old and the new; how Spanish & Native American cultures are still evident in color, design and heritage throughout the city.  They make everything here beautiful - whether it's their  decorative highway bridges including the on & off ramps, the sides of buildings, the murals, bright colors everywhere you look, art and fountains abundant, all alongside lots of plants & trees!  It's a city that's proud of who they are and their history and actively invests in it.  It was fun just to drive down some of the various neighborhoods, seeing some of the old (from the 1800s) houses being revitalized, churches, synagogues, all being saved, used, enjoyed.   Then going into the new downtown area with it's modern buildings, but still with their great colors, architecture and designs that blended with their history, rather than clash with it - or as bad, just boring gray boxes (like so much of Phoenix is).

Checking the guidebook, there was a couple of "must sees" on my list, so Jack put a route together that would make it the most expedient way we could get it all in, in the one full day we had planned.  First up,  The Mission San Xavier Del Bac (c1783).  You would think that after several "mission visits" in our travels, we would expect to be surprised by now, but, alas, it always seems to catch us off guard!  (Let me step back a tiny bit and explain why...having grown up in Southern California, I'm used to simple, plain missions with little decoration.  Jack, being from Philadelphia, didn't have missions at all to compare...so pardon our naivete')  So, of course, I was expecting perhaps a small, simple, but beautiful mission (clear out in the middle of nowhere), but non the less, one with great history.

It's on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation (yes, clear out in the middle of nowhere - so I was right about that!)  Just before we got to the mission itself, we came to the Tohono O'odham Cemetery...way cool.  Large, simple and colorful, I loved it!  I'm sure lots of history (and stories) there, but no time, and no one to tell us, so we moved on. oh my goodness..."  So much bigger, and already "fancier" than expected...and this was just the outside!  Walking around the outside with our mouths dropped open, snapping pictures, in no way prepared us for what we found inside.  It's hard to find the words...we've seen beautiful churches, missions, full of wondrous art, unexpected art, but this was something you would expect to find in someplace like a Mexico City Cathedral!  As with most (Catholic Churches) missions, it was built in the shape of the cross - each section was filled with statues - over 50 in total, in various sizes.  Mary, then Jesus were the most prominent, but Saints of all kinds were there, on every wall, every niche, angels flying out of corners, overhead, plus in between were the paintings.  Everything was covered in art, it was overwhelming!  I had to just sit down and gaze at it all.  A small tour was being given near me and I heard the guide explain that because they were so far away from anywhere (no kidding, this was even in the 1700s, remember?) they couldn't get good artists to come out there, so they had the statues made in Mexico City and sent there.  The paintings were done locally, and you could tell, not done as well.

As we 'rounded the bend and the Mission came in to view, all one can do is whisper "

The Mission went under (and still is a work in progress) a major renovation for 6 years repairing decades of neglect, rain & sand damage.  They have done an incredible job.  We watched a video of that story and it was most impressive.

Having our fill, we left there to check out a couple of other historical buildings, not to the depth of this one (nothing could compete, so why try?).  The first was the Pima County Courthouse.  It is a Mission Revival & Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture c1928 with a beautiful tiled dome.  Very unique.

Next up was the baroque St Augustine Cathedral.  It was originally constructed in 1776, but has had several reincarnations, the last being in 1928 when the brick structure was transformed into its present Mexican baroque form, including the cast stone façade, which was inspired by the Cathedral of Querétaro, Mexico.  Further down the street was another beautiful, historical building, the first Synagogue in Arizona, The 1910 Temple Emanu-El, now turned into a museum, preserved for everyone to enjoy!

The rest of the afternoon was just spent trapezing through those wonderful historic homes of the El Presidio district (Old Town) and just enjoying this lovely city in general!

 This city reminded me of lovely Spanish dancers with their bright skirts, blouses & ribbons swirling about them as they proudly tap to their own lively music!  Ole' Tucson!

...on the road in Arizona,  Marie
If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bootscootn' across Texas!

Unfortunately, due to family business, we had to turn our rig around and head back to California, which means, driving back through the big state of Texas once again!  We will have to come back here in about two months when grand baby number seven is born in June...does the word "yo yo" come to mind to anyone else besides me?  I prefer the more forward motion, instead of backward one myself, but sometimes family matters takes an ugly turn and one has to do what one has to do...  Oh well, guess Nashville will just have to stay on my list of places I want to visit, awhile longer!  Dang...

Anyway, as we are bootscootn' back, as time is of the essence, we took the route that lead us through San Antonio, another one of our favorite stops.  It just so happened that it turned out to be Easter weekend and Fiesta de los Reyes!  As usual, I had lost track of all time and didn't even realize the dates until the night before we were to arrive (Thursday) and got panicky that we wouldn't be able to find a site, but as luck would have it (yea me) we got the last of 3 in a beautiful KOA not far from town.

This campground had everything!  So, Friday evening after settling in, we just took a leisurely walk around the very large park and ordering their pizza and just set out our camp chairs and relaxed outside.  The weather was idyllic for a change, as it had been quite cold for the last few days of travel.  The next morning we indulged, once again in their chuck wagon breakfast, then donned sun hats, camera and headed off to see what the Fiesta had to offer!

Our first stop proved not to be "our type" - loud noisy music, to crowed with families of small children with lots of carnival food and rides, etc.  I had read something about an up-scale art show, so we looked that up and was able to finally track it down.  It was located in an old monastery turned art school.  Beautiful location and great show!  Some of the crafts were really imaginary and unusual, all very nice, all very expensive, all worth our time and enjoyment.

It was time to move on to our favorite part of the city...the River Walk!  It's such a soothing beautiful, yet entertaining part of the city - and filled with great restaurants!  We were hungry and ready to find THE restaurant.  You see, two years ago we wandered into a great restaurant, one that Jack found a dish that he LOVED.  That's saying a lot.  Let me explain to those who don't know us that well...I love food.  All kinds of food.  Jack on the other hand...not so much.  He's from Philadelphia, and likes pretty basic things, things he grew up with, like cheese steaks & bagels - but only the ones like they make in Philly.  Meatloaf, hamburgers, chicken...you get the picture?  Spicy foods like Mexican....not so much.  So, when we go to these types of places, I try and find foods there that he will eat so that I can have a (decent) meal and he can too.  So, I read menus.  That's what I did two years ago, and steered us into this restaurant.  So, back to my story.  We couldn't remember the name of this restaurant, but knew we would recognize it if we saw it again...wasn't sure exactly where on the River Walk it was located...but...knew we'd find it, right?

So, off we went in search!  The biggest challenge was finding a parking place!  Ugh, OK, that done, down the stars we went to the first set we came to.  Where to begin to look?  Three restaurants in, and...could it be that easy?  Yep, there it was!  The Iron Cactus!!  Same menu, same great food, same great service, same fantastic margaritas!  Same very happy husband!!

Our plan had been to spend Easter Sunday really enjoying this lovely campground, the pool, riding our bikes on one of their trails, even using our new campfire pit Jack made us - but the weather turned yucky, so I decided it was a day to catch up on chores instead.  Not the kind of Easter I've enjoyed in the past, but so far, this year it has been one with lots of surprises that I am sure will just keep on coming...and that can be a good thing!

...on the road in Texas,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Sunday, April 20, 2014

French Quarter Music Festival...the second time around!

It was with great anticipation that Jack and I drove into the French Quarter RV Park that Thursday afternoon.  It had been two years since we had been here and we have never forgotten our last visit!  The first time we came to New Orleans, it was to coincide with a visit with some dear friends of ours while they were celebrating their wedding anniversary.  While here, we found out that the following weekend was going to be the annual French Quarter Music Festival, a free 4-day, full-on, 200+ bands of all kinds (well, mostly) of incredible music played throughout the French Quarter, how cool was that?  Well, we trotted right over to our RV Park and asked them if by any chance in heaven if they still had space available during this time, and yes, one!  So we grabbed it!  We soon fell in love...with the town, the food, the music, all of it, and vowed to come back again some day...and that day was today!  It took us two years, but we made it!

We settled in, freshened up, and took off to the Riverfront where we knew the action would be.  We made a brief stop at the Visitor's Center to pick up a schedule, and headed out.  First stop, the Cajun Stage!  My kind of music!  I love it (more than Jack, even tho he likes it too).   Once we got a spot and settled in, I went for food, I was starving, and had purposely waited to eat until we got there because I wanted good 'Nawlins food and I knew that's where I'd get me some!  We started out easy with "Po boys", knowing I would have a chance to build up from there, and I wasn't disappointed, Yum!

Thursday night was time to sit down and take a look at the schedule and "see who was playing where".  Having been here before, really made a (nice) difference!  No need this year to go running around and see & hear everything and everyone, we could be picky and select who and where we wanted to be and just set ourselves up for several sets at a time, or an area at a time.  So much easier (on the "older bodies"!).   One of our favorites is a band we had first found on the street called Tuba Skinny.  We soon found out that they are quite popular and have a large following, especially with the Lindy dancers!  Because of that, we have to get to the stage early if we want to be anywhere near it to see them, so that had to be accounted for!  ;-)

Having done my "research" we set out each day, chairs in hand.  Was it my imagination, or did the crowd seem bigger this year?  Hm mm  Anyway, the weather was lovely, sunny with a nice breeze, so no complaints here.  Having "done" New Orleans before, I didn't really even take my camera with me until the last day...I just relaxed and lost myself in the music and watching the dancers.  They never cease to amaze and entertain me.  There was one special young man that caught my attention this year though.  A delightful 6 year old from Germany.  He was here with his parents and grandparents.  I first saw him while we were all enjoying Cori Walters and the Universe Jazz Band.  Cori is a female drummer and I could tell he was mesmerized by her.  He sat perfectly still for the full hour of her performance completely entranced by her!  A 6 year old!  The following day I ran into them again enjoying Fritzel's New Orleans Jazz Band, one of our favorite's from before, and again, there he was, entranced.  That's when I went and talked with his parents and found out that he loves the drums (plays at home) and that one of the drummers had given him his sticks yesterday (much to his delight!) so he took them and began playing on a nearby can, much to the delight of the drummer!  Later on, during the performance, the young boy, got up and went to his mom and asked her to dance!  He was pretty good too!  There was one other (fantastic) couple doing the Lindy that he watched and did his best to copy where he could.  What a little man.  In so many ways, looks, personality, age...he reminded me of one of my grandsons that it brought sweet tears to my eyes. 

All to soon the festival was over.  As we took our last pedicab home we sighed that we had not been disappointed.  So many times the "second time around" doesn't live up to one's expectations, but this one did!  We enjoyed every moment of it!  As we entered our RV Park, another couple was walking towards us and stopped us, asking for advise on where to eat that was close by.  They had just arrived, never having been to New Orleans before, didn't know about the festival, only staying the night, couldn't really walk very far...we looked at each other and began to chuckle...we knew just where to send them and how to get them there safely (we were now the experienced ones!)

...on the road in Louisiana,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Frontier Texas!

Traveling through Texas always has it's challenges for us.  There are the challenges of finding "new routes" so that we can try and see new things, yet get to where we need to be in a timely manner - because no matter that we are "retired" it always seems like we are headed somewhere that has a timeline - like this time.  This time we are headed for French Quarter Music Festival held each year in New Orleans Louisiana the week before Easter.  So, time is of the essence.  Anyway, as I was saying, we like to try different routes when we can, and still make it across that big, big state.  Additionally, my son Aaron lives in Plano, which is outside Dallas, and I can't get that near and not swing by and not see him, Jess and pat the baby-to-be, so that had to be in the route as well! 

Then there is always the challenge of the boring parts of Texas.  The long stretches of nothing...hard to avoid those.  Ugh.  I try to do needlepoint, but poor Jack just had to keep driving.  Finding places to stay through these areas are challenges as well...more on that later!

Weather is another challenge in Texas!  It seems to change from hour to hour, day to day, or mile to mile.  Being on the road full time, we always follow the weather reports, but trying to keep up with it in Texas is like keeping up with a two year old high on sugar!  It's always a gamble if that storms going to turn on you and turn really ugly or not and there can be some really scary hours trying to decide which route to head toward to avoid the pending storm - because there always seems to be one! 

This trip through Texas brought with it some new surprises, and lucky for us, they were fun ones, and certainly unexpected ones!

Our first was when we arrived in Odessa Texas.  Being early April, I didn't expect to have to make any reservations ahead of time, so when we pulled into the (only decent) RV park around 5PM after a long drive, we were shocked to hear them say they were "completely full"!  Even more surprised to learn that there would be NOTHING within 100 miles!  It seems that this area is "oil country" and has been since 2008!  So, where has my head been?  Jeez!  The sweet couple (Mary & Pat Lewis) at Mesquite Oasis RV Park took the time to explain to us how the towns of Odessa & Midland usually have about 100,000 folks live there, but now, during the week it swells to over 600,000 with the oil workers!  There are just not enough "rooms", campgrounds, etc to house everyone.  After all was said and done, they ended up offering us a (free) spot out by their (beautiful) duck pond for the night with privileges to their laundry room, TV, etc.!  A little oasis in the very dusty desert.  It even had it's own oil pump (which we got a chance to get a close look at)!

Our next stop was in Abilene, where we took a couple of days off to see the town and rest from some long days of (boring) driving.  We decided to check out a local museum called Frontier Texas! and what a nice find!  They really did a great job with not only their displays, but in the way they told the history of the "old west".  They used so many different types of media, movies (both traditional and 360/3D) and several holograms that were very well done, telling you in (first person) their stories (Indians, women, cowboys, merchants, scouts) exhibits showing teepees, wagons, actual saloons to enter, hands-on experiences, all kinds of various experiences.  Very cool...and I even told them so...on TV!  Yep, I got interviewed on local television!  Ha!  Seems the museum was celebrating their 10th anniversary and while we were just about the leave their TV crew had just wrapped up interviewing the director and I guess they liked my looks, anyway they came and talked with me and then asked me if they could put me on camera, so I agreed.  So, there I was on the 10 o'clock news!  Funny, I worked in Marketing at an attraction in California for 20 years and had to be in Texas at an attraction before I ever got in TV!  ;-)

We also visited a small, but mighty museum put together by the 12th Armored Division for their WWII Memorial.  A really nice job showcasing the local troop's involvement.

We were able to skirt the weather pretty well the whole way this trip.  Each day my son would call and check on us.  It kept hailing in and around Plano, even up to the day we were to arrive there, but all we ever got was light rain, thank you God.  We found a nice State Park (Cedar Hill) this trip, that we stayed at.  It was an hour from him, but a much nicer place than the RV park we were at last year.  The sun kept peeking in and out and even gave us a nice sunset once, so no complaints.  Even the Texas Bluebonnets were in bloom for us! 

With sad goodbye's we soon left and it was into Louisiana before we knew it!  The difference between the two states is sure something to see!  My goodness!  New Orleans here we come!!

...on the road in Louisiana,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hawaii - Oahu! Final days...

With only a couple days left of our "Islands Vacation" it was time to hit the beach - Waikiki! Jack had never been to Oahu, so, of course had never seen the "famous beach", a must see, if your ever going to Honolulu!  I had only received one request for a souvenir, and that was from my son Aaron, who is a fan of Spam.  He asked for a Spam T shirt.  I had looked for one on the Big Island without success, but hadn't fret over it, thinking that Oahu would really be the island that would have it anyway.  I had shared with Susan that I was on the lookout for one, and that put her "on it!"  Everywhere we went, we asked sales folks for it.  Each one shook their heads, but would make suggestions as to where we might try finding one.  We had first tried the Flea Market (no luck) then many shops all along Waikiki.  While we didn't find the T shirt, we did enjoy the shopping and sightseeing, stopping for a drink at the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  Jack even learned the difference between a $500 Panama hat and a $15,000 Panama hat...smooth as a piece of silk... The sights were fun too, everything from a lady walking her 8 dogs, to a Tiki carver, to a man playing a didgeridoo, to the variety of surfboard lockers, upscale hotels, restaurants, sand, surf and bikini clad babes!  Wonderful!

Our evenings were fun-filled as well.  Susan & Miles volunteer as ushers at the local theater and managed to snag us a couple of tickets in time before they were all sold out, so we got to see a wonderful performance of "Rent" while we were there.  They are also on the "inside track" of a local jam session that's been going on for about 20+ years in a woman's home.  Her husband used to play in a band, and she converted her attic into a wonderful lounge complete with a few tables and chairs, an area for the band, a small kitchenette for punch & coffee and hosts musicians and guests on Thursday and Sunday afternoon/evenings.  She's quite old now, and her husband has passed away, so her son has continued their tradition and wonderful local artists come and grace their home with their music.  We enjoyed listening to some terrific jazz and a great vocalist for several hours one sunny afternoon.  Afterwards they took us to an "old style" Tiki restaurant, La Mariana Sailing Club for some nostalgia and great food!

One of the things I had seen passing each day was the top of a Japanese Temple that intrigued me.  I asked Miles what it was and he told me it was at a cemetery below the freeway we were on.  I asked if he would mind if we stopped at it (I love unusual cemeteries).  They had never actually been to it and were up to the adventure!  What a great find!  It turned out to be several things - the Oahu Cemetery & Chapel that was founded 1844, a Buddhist Cemetery and the Kyoto Gardens that housed the Kinkaku-ji Temple (which is the top I kept seeing) and the Sanju Pagoda.  We ran into a very nice gentleman who was working on the two buildings and pond, who explained all about the place (even gave us a beautiful brochure) and how it's being renovated to bring it back up to it's former beauty. I really enjoyed the excursion and showing my hosts a spot that they had never seen in their own city!

All to soon our Hawaiian Vacation was coming to an end.  All that was left was the Spam T shirt!  And guess where we finally found it?  At a cook's store in a mall!  What a hoot!  Well, that done, and lots of hugs and even a tear (mine) and it was time to go...for now.  One thing for sure, it won't be another 25 years before we meet up again!

...back on the mainland, trying to catch up!  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hawaii - Oahu! History...Ours and the Island's

 Our short flight from the Big Island to Oahu wasn't even long enough to get a sip of water!  A quick up and down and we were there.  My heart was beating fast as I exited the plane, looking around for my friends.  Being greeting "island style" brought with it extras this time around.  You see, we hadn't seen each other in over 25+ years!  We briefly met on another "quick trip" when I was traveling with a girlfriend to a conference that was being held in Kauai.  We stopped first in Oahu to see Susan & Miles for a few days before heading over to Kauai.  Susan and I just kept in touch.  Christmas letters, e mails, then blogs.  We both had sons near the same age, liked each other and are both writers.  They retired a few years ago and both love to travel as well, but our paths just keep missing each other.  When I contacted her to see if they were going to be home while we were coming to the Island, they were thrilled that it finally worked out and insisted we come for a few days.  What a hoot after all these years to finally hook back up again!  And just like the first time...it was like the 25 years were yesterday, instant warmth and joy!  Don't 'cha just love it when that happens?  ;-)

We all 'hit the ground running'!  Threw the bags in the car, dashed off to a wonderful little favorite spot for lunch, then tootled off to start seeing some sights.  We first walked around the Ali'iolani Hale Museum, and got a little history of Honolulu and then around the State Capitol Building, took a quick peek of the outside of Queen ʻIolani Palace (no time to do the whole inside tour), popped into a small but beautiful Hawaii State Art Museum and saw some incredible quilts as well as other art work. 

From there we visited the The Honolulu Memorial, a beautiful tribute to the war in the Pacific.  Mosaic maps of each Operation individually done by one woman.  Quite impressive.  The attached National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific was done beautifully as well.  My father, mother, sister & brother were in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, so this history has a special meaning to me.  They've shared their stories about that day, and the days following it, a number of times over the years, so it's very real to me.  Jack, being a WWII buff, has always been very interested in it, so he was also interested in seeing all this.  Afterward we walked up on top of this hill that looked over the city and gave an incredible panorama of the whole city - wow!  A lot of building going on, with already tons of tall buildings all snugged up against each other.  You can sure see where the 1.5 million population is!

Of course, this led us onto the Pacific Aviation Museum that includes the USS Arizona.  That filled the rest of the day.  It was quite moving.  They did a nice job without "over-doing" it, I thought.  Telling the stories, giving the background, the history, the strategies and honoring the fallen & the heroes.

The following morning, we did something I rarely do...got up to see the sunrise!  After doing this, now twice so far this year, I'm getting convinced that they are actually prettier than sunsets...well CAN BE, anyway!  This one certainly was!  They took us to a small beach that was deserted (at this time of the day!) and what a display we got for our trouble too!  Well worth the 4am wake up!  After a nice breakfast, some scenic drives...one along Waokanaka St to see some "Canope Trees", another to Nu'uanu Pali Lookout where it was absolutely beautiful, but oh so windy you almost had to hold onto something or get blown away!  We were able to catch the sunset as well, at a small park near the beach and watch a young couple's wedding, and then enjoy the last of the sun's rays while sail boats drifted by.  Gorgeous.

 That covers half our stay...I'll leave you with that for now, and fill in the rest next time! 
...back on the mainland, trying to catch up!  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/74905158@N04/