Key West, Florida

Happy birthday, Dad!  I had the dates screwed up (you may have noticed I had them wrong on this blog) so I called to wish Dad a happy belated birthday two days ago.  Oops!

Today we took a trolley bus on a guided tour around the island.  It’s got quite a history.  It was named by Ponce de Leon back in the 1500s.  Since then, its been a military base, most notably, a Union base during the Civil War.  Even though Key West is the southernmost city in the United States, it refused to secede from the union.

From 1918 to the 1970s it was the main submarine base for the US.  In the early 1900s one of the partners of Standard Oil sold out and sunk $50 million into building a railroad to Key West, which was only accessible by boat at that point. This project included about 40 bridges.  He wanted to take advantage of the opening of the Panama Canal and he hoped Key West would be the place where all those ships docked and unloaded their cargo.  That railroad later became the basis for the road, now known as Highway 1.

President Truman spent 11 vacations in Key West during his presidency.  In fact, we toured the “Little White House” today.  I thought it was interesting that Truman had a shot of bourbon every morning with his orange juice—it was on his doctor’s orders.  Also interesting is the fact that most of those vacations (all but four) were without his wife.  She stayed in Washington because she thought her husband should have a “guys” vacation where he could drink and play poker without her comments.  Truman insisted that everyone who traveled with him get rid of their suits as soon as they arrived on the island.  They adopted Hawaiian shirts and khakis as their uniform and I think it was the origin for “loud shirts” contests.

Another favorite story involves the U.S. Border Patrol.  Apparently, they set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Keys on Highway 1 (I think this was in the 1980s) and they searched every car—coming and going—for illegal aliens.  It meant anyone trying to enter or leave the Keys had to wait in a four hour line and everyone had to carry proof of citizenship with them.  This policy killed tourism in the Keys so they asked the Border Patrol to stop.  The Border Patrol refused.  So, over some cold beverages, the citizens of Key West considered their options.  They decided the US government was treating the Keys like a foreign country.  After all, the government had established a border, complete with document checks. So, Key West seceded from the union and named themselves the Conch Republic.  Then they declared war on the United States.  After a minute, they surrendered and applied for a $billion in foreign aid and $100,000 in war reparations.  Of course, this was all done in front of the national press and it embarrassed the Border Patrol into changing its policies (especially since they didn’t find one illegal alien the entire time the policy was in place.)

Tomorrow we plan to visit Hemingway’s House.  I’ll get some pictures posted tomorrow, too.  I’ve been distracted and my heart hasn’t been in touring or taking pictures.  I’ll remedy that tomorrow.

Driving through Florida

3,070 miles, so far.

The last couple of days have been all about the driving.  I thought Texas took forever to drive through—the length of Florida felt just as long.  I wish there was more to see from the interstate, but they kind of all look the same.  Trees, some crops, grass, maybe some wild flowers.  To see any of America, you have to get off the interstate.  Since we were more interested in getting from point A to point B, we didn’t.

We stopped Sunday night in Naples, Florida, and did the laundry.  We didn’t get around to dinner until nearly 9 pm.  Luckily, the Bob Evans was still open.  Don’t laugh—Bob Evans is our favorite place to stop on the road.  It has really good beef vegetable soup and we love the bread—whether they have cherry, banana, or blueberry.

On Monday, we were back on the road and headed for Key West.  It was a beautiful drive, but nothing like the road portrayed in the movie True Lies.  The road and bridges are narrow with only one lane going each way.  That means the driving is a little stressful.  This is especially true since the traffic is nearly bumper to bumper and the speed varies often from 35 to 45 to 55 and back again.  Despite that, it is really beautiful.  The water is a unique, deep aqua color.  I’ll get pictures for you soon.

We finally arrived at the hotel late Monday afternoon.  We spent a couple hours by the pool just relaxing and we had dinner at the hotel.  We’re looking forward to exploring Key West over the next several days.

Garden Photos


So, all those flowers I loved in New Orleans, but didn’t know the name of, were azaleas! They come in many different colors from white, to light pink, to this pink, to red.


Doesn’t this look like it should be a puzzle?


Azaleas and holly.



This was an old logging pond the Bellingrath’s cleaned out and fixed up. It seemed familiar to me—I swear I’ve seen it before on a puzzle, or something.



The house sits in the middle of all the gardens.


A courtyard that’s surrounded by the house on three sides. No pics were allowed in the house which is too bad, becasue it was beautiful. This was a close as I could get you. : )


This tree was just starting to bloom and it was stunning.


Another glimpse of the house.


This staircase leads down to the river and the boat dock. Apparently that was a favorite place for the Bellingrath’s nephews and nieces to hang out when they’d spend the summers with them.


This is the boat dock. It wasn’t so appealing on such an overcast day.


Another view of the beautiful gardens.




Here’s part of the home the Bellingraths built. They didn’t have any children and she died about 12 years before he did. He left his millions to turn his home and garden into a public museum in honor of his wife. Today, the entrance fees not only maintain the grounds, they also fund many scholarships and provide income to three colleges the Bellingraths supported.


More of the gardens. The landscaping is really beautiful.


I love this color.




Not only was it overcast, it was cold. We had to change into pants so we woldn’t freeze. (it was in the mid 60s)


The azalea bushes were huge.


Easter liliies, a little early.


Gorgeous orchids.


This hibiscus was the size of a dinner plate. The colors were spectacular.


Not sure what these are, but I loved them.


I liked this one because of the pineapples in the background. They were about 6 inches long. That gives you an idea of just how big the hydrangeas are.



The blue hydrangeas were almost the size of volleyballs.


This is part of the rose garden, which wasn’t blooming yet. In the background is a greenhouse.



This boardwalk goes over, along, and back over the estuary. It’s full of wildlife, including alligators. We didn’t see any, though.


There were even bamboo forests!


The weather worked perfectly for us. As we were getting ready to leave Bellingrath, the rain began to pour. I like this picture becasue of the lilac bush that climbed the evergreen and produced a couple stories of lilac flowers.

Bellingrath Estate

2,250 total miles, so far.

When we left New Orleans this morning it was gray and overcast.  The weatherman said there would be rain.  We hoped to do some exploring despite the forecast.

We found our adventure in Mobile, Alabama.  It was all by accident, really.  As we were leaving the B&B this morning, I consulted the notes I made when my friend Barbara—who was raised in the South—told me all the places we should see.  She recommended the azalea trails in Mobile.  A quick internet search later and we discovered we were right in the middle of the predicted height of the azalea blooming season.  So, off we went.

We found Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile and it was incredible. The pictures are here.  I loved the story behind the place as much as the gardens themselves.  It all started in 1917 when Mr. Bellingrath, the local Coca Cola bottler/distributor, was feeling under the weather and went to see his doctor. The doc diagnosed a classic case of over-working and advised his patient to buy a run-down fishing camp and “learn to play.”  Mr. Bellingrath took his doctor’s advice and over the next 30 years he and his wife built the Bellingrath Estate.

It grew from an initial 3 acres to more than 900, but only about 65 acres are cultivated into formal gardens.  The Bellingraths were inspired during a trip to Europe where they saw the grand estates and formal gardens there.  They came home, hired a landscape architect, and the rest is history.

Mrs. B was also quite an antique collector.  Her collections filled and overflowed her house in town so she built a 10,000 square foot house at their retreat.  It is an incredibly beautiful house, full of elegant rooms and priceless antiques.  It was the height of Mobile society to be invited for dinner at the Bellingrath’s home.  When they built the house, electricity didn’t extend that far out of town but they wired the house for it anyway.  In the years before the electric lines reached them, they ran the lights with generators.
We also learned something about the history of Coca Cola.  It was originally invented by a doctor as a tonic to help those addicted to morphine break the habit.  That lead me and Bob to wonder how much cocaine Coke used to have in it.  The answer: no one knows exactly, but it was only trace amounts.  In any case, after 1929, the recipe was changed and it had none.

I also thought it was interesting that the Coca Cola distributor could make millions of dollars selling soda between 1906 and his death in 1945.

Finally, I like puzzles of beautiful landscapes. I sometimes wonder where such gorgeous pictures were taken. I swear I’ve seen puzzles of these gardens.

New Orleans Gallery


The azaleas were blooming everywhere!  They are worth a trip to see–sort of like seeing the trees change color in New England in the fall, or the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. in the spring.


The trees were huge and gnarly. I loved the fact they had Mardi Gras beads hanging from them everywhere.


Here we are with the Levinsons.


I liked the red lights on this trellis. It was funky and fun.

Below are some of the buildings we saw in the French Quarter. They were interesting architecture and full of interesting designs.




We never did see who the VIP was in the motorcade.

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I loved the wrought iron details.


I got a kick out of this–I know, my sick sense of humor–but it was a windy day so all these mannequins’ dresses kept blowing up.


Ummmm . . . not really interested. One of the B&B guests told us they tried it and it was rubbery– like eating over-cooked chicken-flavored calamari.


Lots the last at the market. These pralines looked delicious!


Anyone need a sparkly new bra?


I loved this. More of the beautiful wrought iron.



Beignets! Cafe Du Monde is open-air and very crowded. It’s not a place to sit and enjoy the day–you get in, you get out. I think at a less busy time, it would be a lovely place to sit, though. Oh, if you try the beignets, don’t inhale!  The powdered sugar dust is deadly. : )



We were so tempted, but figured most of our kids would object if we bought this for their kids. It was quite entertaining and anatomically accurate. The lady at the store said it was a top seller. : )

Below are various things we ran across as we wandered around.


Bob asked her for directions, but didn’t get far.   : )


View of the Mississippi River from the Moon Walk. The river is about a half mile wide and 200 feet deep at this point.


Jackson Square.


Entrance to the park on Jackson Square.




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These musicians were fabulous. The lady with the clarinet was fantastic.



View of the city from the Moon Walk along the Mississippe River. Historically, the river flooded every year. When it did, it laid down deposits of mud so the land near the river is higher than the rest of the city. That’s why the French Quarter didn’t flood during Katrina.


Not a combination you see every day!  We tried the ice cream; maybe we should have had a bloody mary instead!




Here are a coupe businesses with discreet lines around them. The lines indicate how high the water got during Hurricane Katrina.


When people rebuilt, many put their houses on stilts. The side benefit is it created all kinds of useful space under the house. Here, they use it as a garage.


Here’s one of those X’s. It was made on 9/11/05 by a team that identified itself as CA3. It was an external search (“ext”) of the house. If any bodies were found, the number would have been placed below the “ext.”


Artist’s representation of leftover debris from the hurricane.


In the very poor neighborhoods, there are many houses that haven’t been restored. They are rotting away.


Another X. This house was searched on Sept. 21st, and they found no people inside–either alive or dead.


In this one, the natural gas was still on when they searched the building.


The close up of the X above is on this building. It indicates how high the water got–up to the second story.



Here are more of the houses that have been left to rot. It’s a problem in the city, because the rebuilt houses and the rotting ones are side by side. It’s a health issue.  In the second photo, you can see the holes in the roof that were made with axes by people in boats to rescue people who were stuck in their attics by rising water.


Can you imagine what it must be like to live next door to an abandoned house? It’s quite a problem and is becoming a political hot potato in New Orleans. Should the city tear these houses down?


Before Katrina there was no evacuation plan. Now, if there’s an evac order and you can’t get yourself out, you can wait at one of these statues (found all over the city) and the city will give you a ride.

Below are some picture of the beautiful city park and statue garden. New Orleans has the 5th largest city park in the US. It used to include a golf course but it wasn’t rebuilt after Katrina. In fact, the city had 7 golf courses before Katrina and only one still exists. It’s the same with the hospitals. After Katrina, more than half of the city’s hospitals could’t re-open because of damage.


Palm trees were rare in New Orleans before Katrina. But since then, they’ve become popular choices for people replacing the many trees that died during the storm or shortly after. Many died from the salt water during the floods.


The park is full of live oaks that survived Katrina. The Spanish Moss is thick in many of them. The Indians used Spanish Moss to diaper their babies and to pack wounds. Later, when New Orleans was settled, they used it to stuff mattresses.



I look like such a dork. Being allergic to the sun can really be a pain in the neck.


This is the coffee shop in the park and its open 24 hours a day. It also has live music most of the day.




This one’s for you, Abby! Don’t worry, I promise it doesn’t move and can’t get you!



A man of letters?



All the waterways are interconnected throughout the city. So, you can kayak through the scultpute garden.

Now, for more of the French Quarter.




We had a lovely dinner at Commander’s Palace. It’s off the beaten path, but it’s hard to miss–that turquoise stands out!




The house specialty—pecan encrusted white fish. It was really good.


I had the shrimp on cheesy/garlicky grits. Yum!


Bob’s strawberry shortcake. It was really, really good.


My bread pudding soufle with a rum-laced sauce. : )

We found our way to the WWII Museum. It was a rainy day and I didn’t expect much, but it was fascinating. The exhibits on the Japanese internment camps were especially interesting. I highly recommend you spend some time here if you’ll be visiting New Orleans.




It was hard to take pictures in the WWII museum so I don’t have many to show you. However, I thought this was interesting. The quality on my pic is good enough to read if you zoom in. Click on the picture so it enlarges, then take a look. It’s very interesting reading.

We enjoyed the park and the sculpture garden so much on one of our tours, we went back for more. It’s a restful, cool, peaceful spot. Here are some more pics from that visit.


We found a little baby diet coke.  It was so cute : )



This was Bob’s favorite. It has no visible support other than the ladder resting on the ground.






Of course, no trip to NOLA is complete without a visit to a cemetery. It’s not possible to bury people in New Orleans because its below sea level and there’s too much water. So, they put them in crypts. The cemeteries look like cities of miniature buildings. Some date back to the 1800s, or even earlier.


Doesn’t it look like the tree is melting frm the bottom and it’s overflowing its container?


These tombs are used by a family for generations. We found slabs for people who were burried here as late as 2013. Others go back to the 1800’s.




Message received: DON’T TRY TO GET OVER THIS WALL. Got it.


The side walks are treacherous all over the city. It’s hard to see the sights when you have to keep your eyes on your feet. We found one spot where the tree roots caused a heave in the sidewalk that was nearly 3 feet tall. This is a little one by comparison.

Back in the French Quarter, we found the police ready to roll.



We accidentally ended up on Bourbon Street trying to get to the street car. It was gross and skeevy, even at 4 in the afternon. We didn’t see any mounted police, but every street corner had a group like this one.


New Orleans–Day 3

Today was a hodge podge of things.  We started in the Garden District and one of the Cities of the Dead.  Next, we went back to the sculpture garden in City Park because we wanted to see more of it.  We also stopped for lunch and had more beignets and some crawfish étouffée (yum!).  When it started to rain, we headed for the National WWII Museum.

What a gem!  The WWII museum was incredible.  It had tons of exhibits and big explanatory boards, but my favorite things were all the movies that explained so many things about the war in great detail.  It was fascinating, and heart-breaking, and inspiring.  If you’re ever in New Orleans, make sure you spend all the time you can at this museum.  It was wonderful.

We’ve been meeting lots of interesting people at the B&B.  I’m most surprised by the Brits who are in town for a big Wrestlemania event.  Who knew Wrestlemania was so big in Europe?

Tonight for dinner we had reservations at Commander’s Palace.  We have some pictures  here.  Thank you, Sam, for helping with that!  It was lovely and the bread pudding soufflé and the strawberry shortcake were our favorites.  Commanders, like many other places in New Orleans, had to be rebuilt from the studs after Katrina, but they restored it exactly as it was.

We’re leaving New Orleans tomorrow.  We have reservation in Key West beginning on Monday, so who knows where we’ll end up over the weekend?

Oh, one more thing.  Can Catholics eat turtle meat on Fridays during Lent?  Turtle isn’t a mammal, but then neither are chickens.  Any thoughts?

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


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



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




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.


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


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


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.


More of the ISS modules.


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.



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.


Shower in space.




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.


The rocket engines are enormous.

Exploring the World