Tag Archives: North America

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 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.

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


The River Walk



City Scenes





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.



The River Walk, again.




The Alamo




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.


This cactus is enormous.


More of the crazy tree.



More River Walk


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



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.



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








More of the River Walk










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




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!






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.

Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave

What a fun place to visit! It’s an area owned by the same family for several generations and they are battling with the National Park Service for control of the site. I can see why the Park Service wants it, it is a treasure.

The first thing we noticed when we drove into the parking lot was the dead dog stretched out in the middle of the parking lot. It was a shocking and upsetting thing to see. It was also weird because ours was the only car in the lot. We weren’t sure if the site was open or if there was something wrong. With the dog, we wondered if this was the beginning of a horror movie.

Bob swerved so he wouldn’t hit the dog and it raised its head and yawned at us. What a relief! No horror movie–just a supremely lazy dog.  After we parked, I approached the dog carefully to see if it was ok. When I was about 10 feet away, she rolled onto her back and presented her belly for a good scratch.  As soon as I started scratching, she sighed deeply, flopped her head back down and didn’t move again.  She was a riot!  Apparently she is the owners pet and she takes it upon herself to patrol the grounds at night and keep all wildlife away.  During the day, she is comatose.

Anyway, after a chat with the owners, we learned about their battle with the National Park Service. The land has been in their family for generations. They’ve always operated it as a tourist attraction. Now they’re struggling to keep it in the face of much pressure from the National Park Service which wants to take over the operation. We also discovered we were a little early in the season for tourists. We had the place to ourselves!

We headed up the path to the Bandera Volcano. The whole area was covered in rough volcanic rock and the path was black from crushed lava rock.  The trail circled up the outside of the volcano until it reached the side where the the cone had collapsed and the lava flowed out.  It was a very windy day and the path was steep–probably the most strenuous thing we’ve done on this trip so far–but it was worth seeing. I’ve never been inside a volcano before. It was black and barren. Hardly anything grew inside. Eerie and other worldly.

After lots of pictures (and a mad dash by Bob to retrieve my new Solar Observatory hat when the wind blew it off), we returned to the little store and began the journey down the other path to the ice cave. Even in the middle of a burning New Mexico summer, the 20 foot thick ice sheet in this cave never melts. The cave is actually a collapsed lave tube where water naturally collected. Because of the prevailing winds, the shape of the cave, and the insulating properties of the lava, the cave never gets above 31 degrees, no matter how hot it is only 20 feet away.  We had to walk down an old wooden staircase to see the ice cave and that was an adventure in itself.  Of course, my healing calves weren’t happy, but what’s a vacation without sore legs?

You can see all our pictures here.

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo is a very interesting place.  In the picture above, it’s hard to see the village, but it is sitting on top of the bluff.  It is inhabited by the Acoma people (pronounced Á-cō-ma).  In fact, the peublo has been continuously inhabited for about 1,500 years, making it the oldest city in the United States.  It even survived sieges by the Spanish in the 1500’s.

The Pueblo rises 350 feet above the desert floor and there wasn’t a road to the top until the 1960’s.  Before that, only 5 staircases (and I use that term lightly) accessed the top.  These stairs are so completely hidden from view (probably because they barely exist) that the Spanish never found them when they layed siege to the Peueblo.  Interestingly, they (and many other Indian tribes in the area) are matrilineal, with the youngest daughter in the family inheriting the family’s house on the Pueblo.

The only way to see Sky City (another name for the Acoma Pueblo), is by guided tour.  On the tour we were assaulted by little bugs (that luckily didn’t bite) that just wanted to land on us and hang on.  I’m not sure what they were, but they were about 1/4 inch long and very tanacious.  Whenever we would pause in the tour for the guide to point something out, Bob and I felt like monkeys picking nits off each other.  It was ridiculous!  The guide has lived on the Pueblo his  entire life and he said he’s never seen the bugs before.  Maybe they are the result of the really mild winter.

Only about 15 families currently live on the Pueblo.  There is no electricity or plumbing on the Pueblo so we saw many Port-A-Potties and outhouses.  Many more families routinely use their homes on the Pueblo during ceremonies and other special occasions.  Many occupy their homes during the day but have homes elsewhere for the night.

Pottery is a big thing for them and they have many very talented potters.  We saw some incredibly decorated pottery that took quite an artist to create.  Traditionally, the pottery from this area is white with black, intricate markings.  Fragments of this pottery have been found as far away as Maine.  The trade routes of the ancient indians were quite extensive.  On the Pueblo, they have found macaw feathers from South America and shells from the coast of Baja.  This is true throughout the region.

At the end of the tour, the guide offered to let us walk down one of the ancient staircases, or we could drive back down with him.  Bob and I decided to walk.  The guide explained that the stairs had been “improved” for use by the public, but that the stairs were much like they have been for over a thousand years.  Before the 1960’s, this particular staircase was the only route for anything the Indians needed in the Pueblo. Everything had to be hand carried up and down the stairs The guide warned that it was a quick 3 second descent should we fall.

Oh, My, Goodness, the “stair” was GROSSLY overexaggerated.  It was barely more than a suggestion in the rock.  It was quite a challenge and gave us a whole new appreciation for how agile the peole who lived her must have been.  If you ever visit Acoma Pueblo, don’t miss the chance to go down those steps, but be warned!  Bob and I were the first of our group to go down and we were followed by a family from Paris.  The mom and dad were very slow and the kids got ahead of them so we ended up helping the two kids down.  Of course, the boy (about 10 years old)  LOVED it!  It was quite an adventure (and thank God Bob could speak enough French to communicte with them!) Then again, the tone of voice used by a parent to convey danger and caution is universally understood.

Take a look at all our photos here.