We left Livingston Texas this morning after spending three weeks there. Now we are in "Cajun" Country. Anyone know what that means? Cajun is a term used for Arcadians, a group of French Canadians who left eastern Canada in the early 1700s rather than swear their allegiance to England. The Cajuns are direct descendants of the Arcadians. From what we've read, they are a pastorial people (typically farmers and ranchers). We know that they have a very distinctive culture and types of food. A lot of the well known food in this area is "Cajun" food. Of course there is also "Creole" food. Creole seems to mean different things in different cultures. Here, Creole refers to people who are descended from the French and Spanish who settled this area in the 1600s.
There are swamps and bayous in this are also. I had to look in a dictionary to find out the difference between a swamp and a bayou. A swamp is "a wetland often partially or intermittently covered with water; esp: one dominated by woody vegetation." A bayou is a "a creek, secondary watercourse, or minor river that is tributary to another body of water or any of various usually marshy or sluggish bodies of water." Of course we are out of Texas and in a different state. Right after entering this state, we stopped at the visitor center. Behind the visitor center was a body of water, I guess you would call it a bayou. On a post near the water were two signs. The top sign showed a picture of an alligator, the bottom sign simply said "NO SWIMMING"!
Now, back to the three weeks we were at Rainbow's End in Livingston Texas. Rainbow's End is the first RV park that was established by the Escapees RV Club. It is very nice. The people were all great. You would expect that you would meet some unfriendly people at an RV park that has several hundred permanent residents, about 100 temporary residents, plus about 30 residents who are disabled, recovering from surgery, or in general need some extra care. NOT SO, everyone was extremely friendly, there was always someone willing to help someone else. It was great. Larry even had one of the Escapees give him a hair cut and Adrienne thinks it's the best haircut he's every had. Not bad for $10.
The Escapee Rainbow Parks are built around the idea that individuals can purchase lots, put up some sort of structure (house, shed, RV port, screen room, or whatever), and call that home. These, of course, are the land owners and "permanent" residents. They refer to these people as permanent residents since they own the land, even if those people are gone for most of the year. Then there are the "IN and OUT people." These are the people, like us, who arrive in their RV and spend anything from one night to several months. The interesting thing is that there didn't seem to be any cliques. Eveyone was very friendly. With all the Escapee Parks, they will always make room for an Escapee. If there are no sites available, they will find you a place in the park to boondock (camp without hookups) for the night.
The mail forwarding facility at Rainbow's End handles more mail than the Livingston Post Office. In fact, six days a week, a Post Office Truck (a huge tractor trailer) delivers and picks up mail only for Rainbow's End. Our mail goes to Rainbow's End and is then forwarded by Escapees to where ever we tell them.
The town of Livingston is also interesting. The merchants recognize that Escapees bring a lot of money to the town, so it's very common for them to go out of their way to help you. If you ask questions about the town or the business they will probably ask if you are visiting Livingston. When you answer "Yes" the next question will be "Are you an Escapee?" When you tell them you are, they cannot do enough for you.
One evening we ate at a restuarant called Shrimp Boat Mannys. This is a restuarant that specializes is Cajon food. Since this was brand new to Adrienne, and somewhat new to Larry, we had to ask about certain things on the menu. The waitress brought out samples of probably half the stuff on the menu. That seems to be typical of the way most people in the town treat Escapees.
There is one negative aspect to being an Escapee in Livingston. Many Escapees become residents of Texas. That includes registering their cars in Texas, obtaining Texas Driver's Licences, and registering to vote in Texas. In fact, Escapees has more voters in Polk County than any city in the county. As a result, some of the county politicians don't like Escapees since they are "pass through residents", "typically older" and thus conservative, and are the largest voting block in the county. One of the local politicians even filed a lawsuit trying to prevent Escapees from voting. Although there hasn't even been a hearing yet, it appears that many RVers and several different RV Clubs are banding together to make sure that Escapees have the right to vote. Our philosophy is that we will vote in National Elections, maybe state elections, but will only vote in local elections when someone either obviously supports the Escapee lifestyle or tries to limit the rights of Escapees. I guess there is one local politician that we will certainly vote against.
Our stay in Livingston was intended to be about two weeks. This was extended when Adrienne's daughter became sick in Ridgecrest and had an operation. On January 1, Adrienne flew from Houston Texas to California to support her daughter and returned to Texas on January 8. We both think it was very appropriate for Adrienne to make the trip, her help and support for her daughter was needed. Fortunately, Carrie (Adrienne's daughter) is doing fine and is well on her way to recovery. In fact, she should be back at work on Monday January 14. An interesting side note on Adrienne's trip is that she became an avid fan of Henry Potter. She finished the first book on the trip and we had to get the next two books when she returned to Livingston.
While in Livingston, we took a short trip to Lake Livingston State Park. This is a beautiful state park with several hundred campsites, some shelters for people who want a wooden roof over their heads, lots of pine trees, and a couple of short hiking trails. Some day in the future we may volunteer for the park in exchange for a free campsite (with full hookups).
Now, Where are we? We are in Louisiana in a town called Lake Charles. The people here are very friendly and helpful, just as they were in Livingston Texas.
We are having fresh jumbo shrimp for dinner ($5.95 per lb.) and boudin, a speciality of cajun country. It is like a sausage made with rice. We will let you know how we like it.
Subj: 33. Where are we?
Date: Saturday, January 12, 2002 7:32:16 PM
We left Lake Charles this morning (Saturday, January 12) and continued our trek east. We are still in the Pelican State (that's Louisiana) but in a different area than Lake Charles. We are now in a city known as "The Big Easy." We aren't sure where that nickname originated but it's a well known name.
On the road today, we drove on a bridge across a swamp. The highway was even called the Swamp Highway. Although we didn't measure the length of the bridge over the swamp, we guess it was probably at least 5 miles. That was an interesting drive.
Also, Interstate 10 in East Texas and so far in Louisiana is rough. We had to slow down because of the roughness in the road. In some areas, where they have paved with asphalt, it was smooth, then you come to an area that is concrete and it shakes and rocks the RV. We much prefer the smooth areas.
After we arrived in this city, we set up the RV and then took the truck to an area called the Vieux Carre. Of course it's better known as the "French Quarter." That makes for an interesting name since it is really Spanish, not French. Originally it was French but fires in the late 1700s destroyed most of the original structures so it was rebuilt by the Spanish.
We had to stop and have a cup of coffee and beignets at a well known coffee shop (Cafe du Monde) that has been open 24 hours a day since 1860. The coffee has chicory in it and is diluted with milk. It was good coffee but even though we usually drink coffee black, we were glad it was diluted with milk. Beignets are kind of a French Donut. They are a light square pastry covered with powdered sugar. Yes, they are very good.
We also watched some street performers doing their thing (and of course taking donations).
Where are we? We are in New Orleans Louisiana. A very diverse, strange, interesting large city.
Subj: 34. Where are we?
Date: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 4:49:58 PM
We left New Orleans today (Wednesday, January 15) and continued our travels east. We are in a resort city with Old World Charm and a mild climate. The city was founded in 1699 (yes, that's 1699) when the area was entered by Pierre Lemoyne. Much later, the town served as the first capital of the Louisiana Territory, but it's not in Louisiana. This city has been under six governing bodies: France, Spain, Great Britain, the West Florida Republic, the Confederacy, and the United States. The last home of Jefferson Davis, a US Senator, a Secretary of War, and the president of the Confederate States of America, is located here. Another hint is that we are right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in New Orleans. Some of the highlights included the wonderful Aquarium of the Americas, which is right downtown near the French Quarter, and having Gumbo at Mulate's (a well known Cajun Restaurant). We also toured the Garden district, an old residential community of New Orleans created when Americans started moving to New Orleans after the French and Arcadians (Cajuns) were well established in the French Quarter. Apparently, the newly arrived Americans were not accepted by the residents of the French Quarter, so the Americans lived in the Garden District, probably no more than a mile from the French Quarter. There are lots of huge stately homes in the Garden district. Most of the homes were built before 1850 and many have been restored. Really a beautiful part of town.
We spent almost a day at the National D-Day Museum. This is a relatively new museum the depicts much of the history of World War II. It covers the political and military events preceding the war, and continues through the attack on Pearl Harbor, the expanding German Empire, the formation of the Axis Powers, the invasion of Normandy (D-Day), the Battle of the Bulge (Hitler's last significant Military offensive), the surrender in Europe, then continues with the Battles in the Pacific against Japan. It ends with the Atomic Bombs being dropped on Japan and Japan's surrender. Our AAA tour book says to allow at least 1 1/2 hours. We were there for 4 1/2 hours. They have really done a very impressive job. If anyone has a day to spare in New Orleans, the National D-Day Museum should be high on their list of things to see.
After spending the day at the National D-Day Museum, we celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary by having dinner at Emeril's Delmonico restaurant in the Garden District. We decided to have the Chef's Tasting menu. This is a combination of courses which the chef decides on a daily basis. There are two appetizers, two entrees, and desert, each served separately. The individual portions were small because there were so many different foods. It was very impressive, very tasty, varied, and we enjoyed it. The restaurant itself is quite elegant and of course the service is impeccable. We won't try to list all the courses but included were tastes of shrimp, crab, quail, oysters, and beef.
The last day we were in New Orleans, we drove parts of the old plantation route. Along both banks of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans were plantations. Some of the houses still exist and some are open to the public as museums. We started by visiting the Destrehan Plantation house. This was built in1787-1790 and additions were made in 1812. We toured the house and the grounds. It was quite impressive. We then drove up the East side of the River and saw several other old plantation houses. We crossed over to the West bank of the River and saw more. Probably the most impressive was the Oak Alley Plantation. This is a huge Greek Revival mansion named for the two rows of live oaks planted in the early 1700s that form a quarter mile alley from the Mississippi River to the house. We didn't tour the house but it certainly was impressive from the highway.
Today, we left New Orleans and decided to stay off the Interstate highway and take US 90 east. Even though we only drove about 75 miles the scenery was great. We started out in the city, then when through some swamps and bayous. After crossing a couple of narrow bridges, we were in a pine forest. Then, crossing two more bridges were on the Gulf of Mexico. The highway was lined with stately mansions on the land side of the road, and snow white beaches on the South side of the road. It was very impressive.
Now, where are we? We are in Biloxi Mississippi.
In Mississippi along the Gulf of Mexico
Subj: 35. Where are we?
Date: Friday, January 18, 2002 8:10:35 PM
Today, Friday, January 18, we left Biloxi in the Magnolia State (Mississippi) and continued east. Instead of taking the I-10, we stayed on US 90. We find the Federal and State Highways can be a much more relaxed and interesting drive than the Interstates. We stayed on US 90 until we were almost out of Mississippi, then we switched over to I-10. The only reason for the switch is that the Alabama visitor center was on the Interstate. We find that stopping at each state's visitor's center provides a wealth of information on that state. We usually pick up a state map, most states have a book about various things to see in their state, and lots of other information. We are still on the Gulf coast.
Yesterday, in Biloxi, we went to the downtown area and took a self guided walking tour of their historic district. Many of the buildings were built in the 1700s and 1800s. One of the stops was a Mardi Gras Museum. It appears that Mardi Gras is a celebration mostly from the French Catholic Church. Biloxi claims to have the first Mardi Gras celebration in the US, in 1699! We learned that Mardi Gras usually starts on the 12th day of Christmas (January 6) and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. New Orleans, the party town, starts their Mardi Gras celebration on December 26. We guess that the people of New Orleans will do anything (including changing tradition) for a party.
We celebrated the Mardi Gras festival by buying and eating a King Cake. A King Cake is a ring cake, iced, and with sugar sprinkles. Somewhere in the traditional cake is a bean. When it is served at a party, whoever gets the bean has to host the next party. There can also be a small figure of a baby with the cake. The baby signifies Jesus. It's an interesting and very tasty tradition.
We also went to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. Actually this was quite interesting since it described how to harvest shrimp, oysters, and crabs. Also, during the nighttime low tide during the summer, people in Biloxi go to the Gulf Beach for crabs and flounder. YUM, that's good eating. It's not summer so we didn't try it. The Museum also has a film on Hurricane Camille, a small but deadly hurrucane (200 mile per hour winds) that hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969. All along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi there were signs designating certain roads as Hurricane Evacuation Routes. We've decided that we will certainly try to avoid hurricanes. Maybe that's a good reason to have a house on wheels. Fortunately, it's not hurricane season.
The Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Louisiana now have quite a few Las Vegas type casinos. We're sure they have helped improve the economy of the area but frankly, they detract from the natural beauty of the area.
Where are we? You may not find it on a may but we are in Summerdale Alabama. We are staying at an Escapee Rainbow Park and it is very nice. This is the third SKP park we've stayed in and all three have been great. We are about 30 miles southeast of Mobile Alabama and about 20 miles north of Gulfport Alabama.
We took a detour in getting here. Adrienne saw a sign advertising Krystal Hamburgers. If you're from the Southeast you know what Krystal Hamburgers are. If you're from the Midwest, you probably know about White Castle Hamburgers, well, Krystal Hamburgers are about the same. If you've never heard of Krystal or White Castle (we believe they are two independent companies), you've missed a real experience. Anyway, yes, Larry had his Krystals today, and they were good!! Oh yes, we also bought a dozen Kryspy Kream Donuts.
Subj: 36.Where are we?
Date: Friday, January 25, 2002 7:34:17 PM
I mis-numbered the last Where are we? It should have been number 35. If you check, you received two number 34s. Also, this RV park does not have a modem hook up so I don't know when I'll be able to send this EMail.
We left the Rainbow Plantation SKP park in Summerdale Alabama today (Friday, January 25). We drove up to I-10, then down to Pensacola Florida on I-110, then east on US 98. That was about 20 miles out of the way. So the question has to be why did we go 20 miles out of the way? Easy answer, the only Florida Visitor's Center between Alabama and Florida is on I-10. We like to stop at state Visitor Centers to get information on various things to see in the state as well as state maps.
Obviously, we are in Florida, the Sunshine State, but where in Florida. Well, the Gulf of Mexico is just across the street from the RV park we are in. This area of Florida is known as the Emerald Coast. That's because the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are a beautiful green. There are also various commercial establishments that refer to the Sugar Sands. That's because the beaches are as white as sugar. Although this area is very commercialized, it's natural environment is really beautiful. That may not be enough information to determine exactly where we are, but it should give you an idea of what part of Florida we're in.
Now, what did we do for the week we were in Alabama. First, we visited the Battleship Memorial Park. This is a Museum (for lack of a better term) in Mobile on the bay. The centerpiece of the Museum is the battleship USS Alabama. We toured the battleship (there are self guided tours). The USS Alabama was built at the beginning of World War II, served briefly in the Atlantic Ocean, and then served most of the War in the Pacific, winning nine battle stars and shooting down 22 enemy airplanes during World War II. Battle Stars are awarded to ships involved in fighting various battles and winning them. Battleship Park also has an aircraft Museum and a submarine on display. The submarine wasn't open for tours, which is probably good. We thought we would spend a couple of hours at the Battleship Park, well, it was more like five hours. That's with the submarine being closed!!
On Monday, January 21, we drove through Mobile and down to Dauphin Island. Early in the 1700s the French established the first settlement in the Louisiana Territory on Dauphin Island. Originally the island was called Massacre because of the many human skeletons found. Later, when the military value of the island were realized, it's name was changed to Dauphin. Now it is a resort area and much of it is a bird sanctuary. The primary reason we visited was because there is an Estuarium on the Island. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab established the Estuarium. What's an Estuarium? It's like an aquarium but it focuses on estuaries, which are the lands (or waters) where the salt water of the ocean and the fresh water of the rivers and stream mix. It focuses on the four key ecosystems of coastal Alabama-the swamps, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and the Gulf of Mexico. It was very well done.
Across the street from the estuarium is Fort Gaines, a fort completed by the Confederacy in 1861 to guard Mobile Bay. We had a short visit to the fort, then took the ferry to Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores. Fort Morgan was another Civil War fort that guarded Mobile Bay. To illustrate just how wide Mobile Bay is at that point, it took us about 45 minutes to cross from Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores. Yes, the truck was on the Ferry with us but fortunately the RV was still parked at Rainbow Plantation. We drove along Gulf Shores and back up to Summerdale, stopping for a very good seafood dinner (and key lime pie) along the way. After a late lunch with delicious seafood, we walked on a board walk around the bayou that surrounded the resturant/shopping plaza. As we walked, Larry said, "Stop", I must take a picture of you and the sign". "What sign?" The sign that said, "Please don't feed the alligators!" We didn't see any allgators, but we looked. We did see several pelicans, an egret, and many seagulls.
The next day we toured part of Mobile. We started at Fort Conti, also on Mobile Bay, took a trolley around part of downtown Mobile, and visited some of the old homes of Mobile. Parts of downtown Mobile reminded us of the French Quarter in New Orleans, there was some of the same type of architecture. However, Mobile was certainly cleaner and didn't have the rowdy atmosphere of New Orleans. We drove out to see some of the stately homes that Mobile is known for. Wow, Adrienne says they sure grown big homes in Alabama. We toured the Oakleigh Mansion. The Oakleigh Mansion is an 1833 house built buy a prominent merchant. It has been mostly restored and was quite interesting. It's fun visiting places like Oakleigh during the "off season." We had the tour guide to ourselves, there was no other visitors in the mansion, and what was scheduled to be a 30 minute tour lasted for almost 2 hours.
Before we left Summerdale, we looked at the map and decided that Summerdale would be a good place to be when we explored Pensacola. The major attraction we wanted to see in Pensacola was the National Naval Aviation Museum. So, we took off on Thursday to see the Museum in Pensacola. Wow, that was impressive. The museum is on the Pensacola Naval Air Station and documents the history of Naval Aviation. Pensacola is the home to the Navy's Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, so naturally they have a very prominent display. We saw our first IMAX film at the museum, which featured the Blue Angels. It was impressive too. One of the interesting things is that on various plaques and displays, Larry saw the names of about half dozen Naval Officers he has know through his work at China Lake. The Auto Club tour book says to allow at least 1 1/2 hours for the museum. We spent over five hours there.
All in all, the past week has been great. We've seen a lot of things. We've really enjoyed southern Alabama and the SKP RV park, and thoroughly enjoyed the area. The weather has been something else. We've gone from wearing sweat shirts and jackets to keep warm to weather so warm and humid that we had to run the air conditioner to be comfortable.
Now, where are we? We are in Panama City Beach Florida.
in the Sunshine State.
Subj: 37. Where are we?
Date: Saturday, January 26, 2002 3:08:33 PM
Today, Saturday, January 26, we headed east from Panama City Beach. A big hint on where we are is that we are now in the Eastern Time Zone, so we are three hours later than California. We are just entering the "Big Bend" area of Florida. Anyone know what that means? This is the area of Florida where the Gulf Coast turns and goes south rather than east. The only thing I know about this little town is that there is plenty of seafood available and there is the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory. That may not be much help.
When we left Panama City Beach we continued our drive east on US 98. The highlight of the day was stopping in Apalachicola. Apalachicola is a small fishing village where about 80 percent of Florida's oysters are harvested. We had lunch at Boss Oyster. It's kind of a shack, it looks like the building has been there for a long time and withstood (barely) many storms and hurricanes. However, the food is great. Larry had a plate of broiled oysters and Adrienne had baked oysters with melted cheese, blue crab meat, and sherry wine. The oysters were great! The little town is also very interesting.
The drive from Panama City Beach was interesting. We crossed several very long bridges over the Intercoastal Waterway, various bays, and some rivers. We passed through small towns, pine forests, an Air Force Base (Tyndall AFB), and drove right along the water. It was much more interesting than boring Interstate travel.
After lunch today, we stopped and bought some fresh seafood: oysters, blue crab meat, and jumbo gulf shrimp. We plan on having a great dinner tonight. We even had to buy a couple of small seafood cook books so we know how to bake oysters.
Now, where are we? We're still on the Gulf Coast of Florida in a small town called Panacea.
Subj: 38. Where are we?
Date: Sunday, January 27, 2002 4:46:56 PM
We left Panacea today (Sunday, January 27) and headed south again. We went around the "Big Bend" where the coast of Florida starts going south rather than east. We are now camped in the middle of pine trees and palms. This area is just north of a town known for sponge diving but named after a large game fish.
The drive today was uneventful. There's not too much to talk about. US 98 starts out a two lane highway and after Perry becomes a 4 lane divided highway. It's an easy drive with very little traffic until you get around Homosassa, then it starts to get busy.
Now, Where are we? We are in a Gulf Coast town called Port Richley. It's a nice RV park and our Passport American membership gets us a camp site for $13.50 a night with a two night maximum. Passport America is a membership type organization that costs about $50.00 a year. They publish their own campground directory and you get campsites for half price. This campground's regular rate is $27.00 per night.They do not rate the campgrounds but the campgrounds vary from very nice to pretty ratty. Typically, the big resort campgrounds are not Passport America parks and sometimes there are some significant limitations on when you can use the half price parks. However, for us, it has returned the annual fee many times over.
Subj: 39. Where are we?
Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2002 4:57:31 PM
We left Port Richey today (Monday, January 29) and continued south. We cut over from the Gulf Coast and headed inland to I-75, then south on I-75. We are in an unincorporated area. We are now camped right on the water (it's a canal, not the Gulf) and we're visiting Larry's sister, Lynne, and her husband, John.
The campground in Fort Richey was very nice and we enjoyed it. Yesterday, we took the truck and went to Tarpon Springs. In the early 1900s, Tarpon Springs became famous for its sea sponges. It's has a strong Greek influence because the Greeks immigrated to work in the sponge industry. We toured a sponge factory where they take the sponges as they come from the sea, process them, clean them, grade them, and sell them. It was interesting. We walked around Tarpon Springs, looking in shops, buying one or two things, and looking at all the Greek restaurants and sponge souvenir shops.
While in Tarpon Springs we took a Sponge Diving Boat ride. The ride lasts about 35 minutes and the boat only goes less than a mile from the dock. But, there is a real sponge diver on the boat and he actually goes down and brings up a sponge. Commercial sponge divers typically go out on a boat for three or four weeks at a time. The sponge divers wear a cloth and canvas suit with weights on their feet and shoulders. Then there is a brass helmet that they wear. The diver stays connected to the ship by an air line and a rope. The only means of communicating when they are on the bottom of the ocean is by tugging the rope. Because of the diving suit, they are heavier than water, so they sink. To be able to control their descent and to come back up, they inflate their diving suit. To go down, they bleed the air out of their suit. Although the actual sponge dive was certainly staged, it was quite interesting and fun.
We really enjoyed the town.
After Tarpon Springs we drove to Clearwater, a town that is known for its beaches. We wandered on one of the beaches for a while and picked up seashells from the beach.
Then a quick trip to Camping World for some stuff for the RV, then back to Port Richey.
Where are we? We are in Port Charlotte Florida.