Category Archives: Southern US–Spring 2014

New Orleans–Day 2

Today we walked the French Quarter.  I’ve never been to New Orleans so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Generally, it’s an old city.  It’s history goes back 300 years, and more. So many of the buildings are VERY old and they are all crowded together with  narrow streets in between.  Of course, the French Quarter is known for the fancy wrought iron work on many of the buildings.


We walked along Royal Street which was filled with antique dealers.  We also strolled through the French Market and visited the Cathedral.  We stopped to listen to lots of good musicians playing on the streets.  I put a short video here. We ate beignets at Cafe Du Monde and split a shrimp po’ boy for lunch.  Delicious!


My favorite part of the day was the tour we took that showed how Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.  We saw the levees and where several of the major breaches were.  We couldn’t see them all because there were more than 50.  We saw the 9th Ward and other places that were hit very hard.  Some of those houses haven’t been touched since the day Katrina hit.  We even saw several with holes in the roof where people had been trapped in their attics and were rescued.  Of those houses that have been restored, many of them have been raised on stilts, some by as much as 20 feet!


After Katrina, the Coast Guard (and later, many others) went around in boats and checked each house for people who needed help.  When a house was checked, they painted a big X just above the water line.  The four quadrants of the X were each used for specific information—what kind of search was done, whether the natural gas was still turned on, how many bodies were found, the date of the search, the identity of the searchers, and many other details.  In the 9 years since the hurricane, people have taken different attitudes toward their X’s.  Some erased them as soon as possible but other have preserved them as sort of a badge of honor.  Where they still exist, they indicate how high the water got because they were painted just above the waterline. In other places, especially businesses, they preserved the water line around the building in various ways when they rebuilt.  Whenever you see a building with a line around it, that’s the waterline.  Pictures of all these things are here.


Some facts we learned were amazing.  For example, after Katrina, there were thousands of abandoned cars all over the city.  It took the mayor more than a year to find a contractor to remove them.  Can you imagine what it must have been like to have those flooded cars rotting on the streets for so long?


In the end, Katrina forced an older city to modernize.  Many of those very old buildings had to be renovated from the studs out.  We’re told it has vastly improved the appearance of the city. Another interesting thing is the school district.  Apparently it was pretty corrupt and had an abysmal record.  Katrina washed it completely away.  Now all the previous public schools are charter schools and the level of education is much better.  Some of the schools we saw that had to be rebuilt were beautiful.
Tons of construction is still going on.  Most of the big projects we saw were new fire stations, police stations, community centers and schools.  There are still many buildings that need to be redone, but they are the minority.

Please take a look at the photo gallery for more. I put a lot more details of our trip there.

New Orleans–Day 1

1,950 miles traveled


Today we drove from Webster, Texas, to New Orleans.  We arrived late in the afternoon and checked in to the B&B—which is beautiful, by the way.  If anyone is planning a visit to New Orleans, I recommend Maisson Perrier. They were very kind to us and put us in our own little cottage in the back yard which is named the Abby Cottage.  We took it as a good sign.


For dinner, we met Les and Gail Levinson, friends of Bob’s from his residency days at Hershey Medical Center.  It was wonderful to meet them (for me) and to catch up on old times (for Bob).  We really, really enjoyed the evening.  Thanks, Les and Gail!

Houston Gallery

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Here’s our selfie on the tram waiting for our tour.

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I thought it was fun that cows were grazing between the buildings.

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Each mission creates its own badge. They’re displayed in the command center, among other places, but here are the badges for all the missions that trained at this training facility.

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These are components for the International Space Station.  They’re big enough for a person to move through.

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I liked this guy. He looks like a toddler on his first snow day.

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This is the command center used from 1965 to the mid 90s. When it was decommissioned, it was restored back to its 1965 condition.  It’s an historic landmark now.

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More of the ISS modules.

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This round thing is one of the Soyuz modules that take three people at a time to the Space Station. You can see how big it is by comparing it to the table on the platform beside it, or even the stairs. It’s a tight squeeze.

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This is the proposed Mars capsule. It’s the size of a SUV on the inside. Just enough room for 4 astronauts to sit for the months-long journey to Mars. Obviously, that’s not going to work too well.

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Some of the small robots they’ve developed to do all kinds of tasks in space and on other worlds.

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Shower in space.

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It was April Fool’s Day, so the cafeteria at the museum served purple potatoes with pink gravy. It wasn’t great, but we were starving.

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The rocket engines are enormous.

Houston, Texas

April Fool’s Day!  1600 miles traveled so far.


We’re space and science nuts.  Ask Abby—I think we dragged her to a kids’ science museum in almost every major city we ever visited.  So we got really excited about visiting the Johnson Space Center and we weren’t disappointed.


We started with the tram tour; it was kind of like the backlot tour at Universal Studios.  Only this tour took us to the mission control room where the famous words “Houston, we have a problem” were heard.  We also stopped at the training facility.  There we saw life-sized replicas of all the modules currently in space. There’s even a full-sized replica of the International Space Station (ISS) which is the size of football field.  The training facility is where US astronauts, and others from around the world, train and practice on the equipment they’ll be dealing with in space.  Pictures of everything are here.


Some interesting facts:  The US has had an astronaut in space on the ISS continuously since 2001.  We often have three or more.  The ISS is home to six people at a time.  It’s manned by US astronauts, Russian cosmonauts, Japanese astronauts from JAXA, and various others, including Canadians and Europeans.


The Space Shuttles are no longer operational, so all the astronauts get to the ISS in Russian Soyuz space capsules.  They’re tiny and only fit three people — barely.  I have a picture of one in the photos.  The ISS orbits the Earth at 17,500 m.p.h. and sees a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes.  Astronauts stay on the ISS for six months at a time before they rotate home.  Several have been to the ISS four or more times.  They spend two hours exercising every day to keep their muscles from withering and their bones from decalcifying.  They spend 10 hours a day conducting science experiments.  Much of the science might be considered basic (like how a match burns) but in zero gravity, all the rules are changed and things happen differently.
In the next 2-3 years, NASA expects to contract with private space firms to deliver astronauts and supplies to the ISS, instead of relying completely on the Russians.  When an unmanned supply ship arrives (currently being launched by the Russians, the Japanese and one independent space operation so far) the astronauts unload it and then fill it back up with all their trash.  They undock it and let it drift away.  Eventually it burns up (along with all the trash) when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  They expect the ISS to be operational until at least 2027.


If you want a good novel about NASA, espionage, murder and mayhem, read Dan Brown’s Deception Point. I thought a lot about that book while we toured the Johnson Space Center.


Tomorrow:  New Orleans!!

San Antonio Gallery

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The River Walk

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City Scenes
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This is the place where the bones of the heroes of the Alamo rest. It’s inside the vestibule of the Catholic Church in the next picture.

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The River Walk, again.

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The Alamo

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This tree was HUGE, and CRAZY. Many of its branches rest on the ground, on the roofs of nearby buildings, and on the wall surrounding the Alamo.

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This cactus is enormous.

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More of the crazy tree.

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More River Walk

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We took a boat tour and I’d recommend it. In the picture above, you can see one of the boats we took.

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People have to fall into the water all the time. With twists and turns in the path like this, and the AMPLE drinking establishments along the way, people must fall in often. Luckily its only a few feet deep.

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This building was made to look one dimensional from this angle. It’s a hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More of the River Walk

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The trees were full of these egret/heron-like birds. They were pretty big and very busy building nests.

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This was so interesting. It’s a fig tree growing out of a wall. It doesn’t have a trunk or roots. It isn’t growing through the wall, it actually sprouted in the wall.

The Missions

What’s interesting about the missions is they are all working Catholic Parishes, except for the Alamo. In one, they had an active daycare.  Keep in mind, these buildings were built in the 1700s!

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IMG_0087 Whenever we visit a National Park, I always get stamps for my “passport.”

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San Antonio, Texas

1400 miles so far.


We’ve had a nice couple of days in San Antonio—and we have the sore feet to prove it.  On Sunday, we walked along the River Walk and found some ice cream for dinner.  On Monday, we saw the Governor’s Palace, the Alamo and a bunch more of the River Walk.  Then we spent the afternoon exploring the other missions.  It’s kind of amazing to think what it must have been like in the 1750s when the Franciscan monks walked to the area from their base in Mexico.  At the time, the Indians were being killed by northern Indian tribes and they were dying of diseases brought to the area by Europeans.  To live in the relative safety of the missions, they had be baptized and they were required to learn a European trade and adopt European habits.  I can’t imagine what it was like for them to leave their life styles, their religion, their language and their culture behind. I’ve put some of our pictures of the day here.


I have to tell you about dinner.  We ended up at a vegetarian cafe, which is very unusual for us.  We wanted to try something new.  Our waitress was adorable and so helpful.  Because Bob often orders chicken parmesan when we go out, he got the Chik-N parm and I had the eggplant parm.  Bob said it wasn’t bad and that if he didn’t know, he would probably think he was eating chicken.  : )  Maybe I’ll go back again when I’m in San Antonio for the Romance Writers’ convention in July.  Tera and Alison, are you game?


Two things to note about the drive through Texas.  1.  The speed limit in Texas is 80 m.p.m.  (Thank you!).  2.  Especially in the western part of the state, the highway runs along the Mexican border.  We were stopped at one station (kind of like the fruit check when you enter CA on I 15) to check for illegal aliens.  It was a little weird.

Southern United States–Spring 2014

We have a really big trip planned for the Spring of 2014.  We are going to explore the South for the first time, as well as the Eastern Seaboard.  One of the highlights for me will be Abby’s sorority pinning.  When I joined Gamma Phi Beta all those years ago, I never dreamed that my sister, my niece, and now my daughter, would join me in the sisterhood.  I’m a very proud mama!

The first month of our travels will be vacationing — sight-seeing, exploring, learning about new places, stuff like that.  Most of the second month will be visiting family and friends, catching up, and playing with grandkids.

Check back every now and then and see what we’ve been up to.  If you want to contact us, you can send an email to me at ashiroff@me.com.

Proposed itinerary:
San Antonio, New Orleans, the Florida Keys, Central Florida (including Harry Potter World!), Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Boston (for Abby’s pinning!), New York, Philadelphia, back to Boston (to move Abby out of the dorms), New Jersey, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Wichita, home!

Update in May, 2014

Now that our trip is complete, here are some of the statistics I tried to keep. I’ll try to be better in the future, but keeping track of this stuff over a couple months of traveling is easier said than done!

Miles Traveled: 5,250

Tolls paid: Who knows? $30 before we got to Virginia, after that, our EZ Pass is automatic. I know the GW Bridge alone was $13! Everything in the Northeast is a toll road and it’s not unusual to spend more than $100 on tolls during one of our trips.

Gas bill: (about) $900

States we’ve been to: NV, AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, VA, MD, DE, NJ, CT

What books we’ve listened to: 1. Taken in Death by JD Robb; 2. Concealed in Death by JD Robb; 3. Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Back; 4. Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach; 5. The Witness by Nora Roberts.

Day 1

800 miles today.
We drove from Las Vegas to Las Cruces, NM.  It was a VERY long day — about 12 hours of driving.  We stupidly relied on our Magellan instead of looking at a map so we ended up taking the longer route through Flagstaff.

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The one perk was the Chick Fil A in Flagstaff where we ate lunch. I don’t know what it is about waffle fries and Chick Fil A sauce, but I’m addicted.

Once we realized the Magellan (aka Maggie) was being ridiculous, we adjusted course.  She immediately protested with “Uturn. In. Three. Hundred. Seventy. Two. Miles.”  You know how that stilted voice is.  We just turned her off.

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One of the perks of the drive was all the blooming trees in Phoenix. They were gorgeous. I especially loved the red bougainvillea and the bright yellow Palo Verde Trees.

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I really love Palo Verde Trees. They’re willowy and interesting when they’re not blooming, and breathtaking when they are blooming.

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Oh, and if you can tell me what this picture is, I’d appreciate it.  It was quite a distance away and it kept reflecting the sun. It wasn’t moving, it just hung there. It wasn’t a cloud. It looks like a white balloon shaped like one of those fish crackers.