King Biscuit 2016: Vicksburg National Military Park

We are back in the land of southern comfort food and humid temperatures.  I love it!

Today, we decided to explore the Vicksburg battlegrounds and site of the famous siege that broke the Civil War.  I’m a history nut and read a lot of histories.  The Civil War has been a particular time period that I like to read about.  Even Rich has read Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War.”  That’s all three volumes, too.

I recently had created a family tree for our friend, Doug.  It turns out that his third great grandfather fought in the Civil War at Shiloh and Vicksburg.  Doug has an interesting family story about Michael Mason’s involvement in a crucial point of the siege.  I would love to prove the legend for them.  It would be a great research project.

In the meantime, we headed to the Vicksburg Military Park with the intention of finding the locations where the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Battery E would have been during the siege.  Michael would have been at one of these locations.

It’s a 2 hour drive from Clarksdale down to Vicksburg.  The road is pretty straight and extremely flat.  This is all flood plain for the Mississippi River.  The inhabitants just borrow it to grow cotton and soybeans.  It’s harvest time out here right now.  We see lots of large tractors and combines out picking the crops.  It’s busy out here.  You can tell where there is work because of the dust clouds that hang over the machinery.

Today’s temperature was going to be about 89 degrees.  With the river close by, the humidity was also expected to run pretty high.  The sun was beating down as we drove.  By noon, we had turned on the air conditioning in the car again the humid, hot weather.  A battlefield in these conditions would be a little bit of a challenge.

At the park visitor’s center, we stopped to talk to one of the rangers for more information.  We got printouts for the regiment.  A memorial stone to the regiment is located in the area where they were stationed.  The ranger marked up the map for where three of the Union signs are to indicate Battery E’s locations.  The Illinois state memorial is also marked on the map.  Michael’s name appears on a roll of the Battery inside.the rotunda.

The park opens with a large military archway.  The drive is through very hilly landscape with a lot of ravines.  I can’t image trying to fight your way forward through this.  Signs tell us that there were no trees in the area.  The Confederate forces had stripped the landscape of anything that could be used to erect barriers against the advancing Union army.

Amazingly, there are pictures from the time period.  There is not one tree or bush.  There is barely any grass out there.  The dusty dirty in the dry weather would have choked everything around it.  In our pictures, it appears very lush.  You just have to image the hills and dales totally bare of anything.

The drive winds through the Union lines with the various regiments from each of the states involved.  We see Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky and several more.  We make sure to stop at the Michigan monument.  With the blue skies as a background, it is a beautiful memorial to the lives put on the line and those that were lost in service.

At Graveyard Road, we finally come to the locations for Battery E.  We find the first one with no problems.  It is amazing to see the round, earthen mound that protects the gunners.  The barrel of the cannon peaks over the edge and is pointed directly as a Confederate held hill in the distance.

On the map, the next marker appears to be on Union Avenue, so we continue around.  We’ve been seeing the rotunda on the Illinois memorial from the battlefield.  The road leds directly to its front door.  Here, there are the renovated Shirley house, which sits on its original site.  The Shirley family owned the farmland that become the site of the siege.  The Union army camped around the house and destroyed a lot of the land and house to provide protection for the troops.  It’s nice to see this example of farmhouse restored here.

Walking up to the Illinois memorial is impressive.  They wanted to overwhelm you to make sure the sacrifices here were not taken for granted.  The marble stairs led to a rotunda also of marble.  On the floor is a seal for the state with the dedication date.  There are pictures that should a large crowd attending the dedication.  It is amazing to see all of these people.

Rich finds the Battery E roster in the bronze plaques on the wall of the rotunda.  Listed in the roll call is the name of Michael Mason.  We take plenty of pictures of the plaque and around the memorial.  Inside, the acoustics are so nice.  I can see why the choir director was in the park office trying to bring a group in to sing.  He was turned down on the basis that this is a memorial and not public site for that activity.

We continue the drive around the park.  Using the map, we can’t locate the other Battery E sites.  They don’t appear in the locations that the ranger marked for us.  In frustration, we continue around the road through the battlefield.  We see a site marked Thayer’s Approach.  This is an impossible site at the foot of a very steep hill over extremely rough terrain.  The sign explains that Thayer was trying to stop mining efforts by the Confederates at this site.  We see blue Union markers going up the hill.  They didn’t gain their objective, but they did a good job of making there up to the top with little causality.  They were repulsed at the top of the ridge for all of their efforts.

Back in the car, we continue down the road to the next stop for the U.S.S. Cairo Memorial.  This side of the park runs pretty close to the Mississippi River.  The U.S.S. Cairo was one of 7 ironclad ships built to operate on the Mississippi by the Union Army.  The Cairo went down during the siege and was later located and raised.  The remains are in a protective cradle and covered from the elements.  The remains are mostly the hull of the ship.  Replacement pieces were added to show structure.

The memorial has walkways so you can look down onto the remains and see the internal structure.  It is very cool to get this look into an ironclad.  The original iron plates, boilers, and other metal structures are in their places throughout the ship.  If you love history, this is a great exhibit.

Coming out of the Cairo memorial, you go past the National Cemetery here.  There are rows and rows of stones dedicated to the Union and Confederate soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the conflict.  At the top of hill, you are behind the Confederate lines.  At the top of the hill is the command center that looked down on the conflict.  This is the highest point in the battlefield.

Our first stop was at the top of the ridge above Thayer’s Approach.  From this point, we can see all of the blue Union markers for the groups trying to take the hill.  The last of the markers are about 25 feet from the top of the ridge.  Miraculously, the number for those killed in the ascent was small.  I don’t know how though.  They were looking right up into the gun barrels of the soldiers over them.

Because we couldn’t find the last Battery E markers, we decided to drive down Graveyard Road to attempt to locate them.  But first, we stopped at the top of the hill to get a view down on the Union lines.  It was amazing to look down and see into the batteries and lines of the Union spread across the hills.  I looked down from the top and at the foot of the hill was the last of the Union position.  They were literally right under their noses.

We could see the first Battery E position out at the far end of the field.  We assumed the other two would be somewhat in a line across from them.  Back in the car, we drove out to that area and parked.  Across the road, we found the Battery E memorial stone.  It wasn’t on Union Avenue at all!  We got some good pictures as proof of the find.  From here, we walked up the hill to check for another Battery E position.  That marker wasn’t Battery E, but we could see yet another position hidden from view.  This was the second Battery E we were looking for.

Searching around the hillside and through the weeds and trees, we couldn’t locate the last position.  We assumed it would be in a line or at least located close by the first two.  That didn’t prove to be the case.  We had to give up and be satisfied with what we could find.

We went back to the Confederate line and finished the road back to the Visitor’s Center.  This was only one half of the park.  We never made it across the road to the next set of sites.  It was late in the afternoon and we were more interested in food than battle sites.

In the parking lot, we went through our options.  Turns out, The Gumbo Pot where I was planning to eat didn’t open until 5:00.  It was 3:30 and we were starving.  Nothing else seemed to jump out at us, so we chose the Rowdy’s Family Restaurant.  Great choice.  There was one family inside so we had the place to ourselves.

Rich ordered catfish and I went for the shrimp and grits.  Lo and behold, no shrimp and grits to be had since they ran out the night before.  I ordered the shrimp and chicken platter then.  Darn.  I had my heart set on that.  The food took a bit.  But then when they cook just for you, it does take a while.  The wait was well worth it.  Everything was delicious and fresh.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that we would have eaten anything at that point.

Then it was time for the long drive back to Clarksdale.  We left the hotel about 10 this morning.  It was about 8 when we got back in our room.  Needless to say, it was time for a hot shower and some time to kick back and relax.

Array of cannons used at the site
Array of cannons used at the site
Education sign with the cannons explaining artillery in the battle.
Education sign with the cannons explaining artillery in the battle.
Archway at the entrance to the military park.
Archway at the entrance to the military park.
Michigan memorial to their troops in the battle.
Michigan memorial to their troops in the battle.
Artillery positions at the site of the Michigan memorial.
Artillery positions at the site of the Michigan memorial.
Plaque marking the first of the Battery E positions.
Plaque marking the first of the Battery E positions.
Battery E position on one side of Graveyard Road.
Battery E position on one side of Graveyard Road.
Illinois monument to their troops that found at Vicksburg.
Illinois monument to their troops that found at Vicksburg.
Rich reading the plaques for each regiment looking for Battery E.
Rich reading the plaques for each regiment looking for Battery E.
Michael Mason on the Battery E plaque.
Michael Mason on the Battery E plaque.
Standing inside the U.S.S. Cairo and looking to the front ironcladding at the cannons.
Standing inside the U.S.S. Cairo and looking to the front ironcladding at the cannons.
Memorial stone dedicated to Battery E of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery regiment.
Memorial stone dedicated to Battery E of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery regiment.

Rock and Rye

Attending the Distill Illinois I tasted a spirit called Rock & Rye.  The name reminded me of my favorite cheap soda growing up in Michigan called Rock and Rye.16 This soda I got at Meyer

So I decided to make my own more adult version of Rock & Rye. Here are a couple of interesting facts about Rock & Rye. First the Rock in Rock & Rye is Rock Candy and the Rye in Rock & Rye is Rye Whiskey. The second is the drink was very popular in the nineteenth century.  It was made as a treatment for colds and sore throats.

Here are detailed steps to making Rock & Rye if you want to make your own cold medicine.  These should be adjusted for your tastes.

Ingredients

750 ML Rye Whiskey, 1/2 cup rock candy(I used cherry flavored), 1 cinnamon stick, 2 whole cloves, 1 tsp Horehound (search Amazon), 2 oz dried Cherries, 1/2 Lemon, 1/2 Orange, and 1/2 Lime.

01
You will need to pore a bottle of Rye Whiskey into a big jar.
02
Then add the spices. Cinnamon
03
Then add the spices. Whole Cloves
04
Then add the spices. Horehound
05
Then add the Rock Candy

Waiting

06
Wait Three Days

Time to add the fruits.

07
Then Add the dried cherries

08
Half a Lemon
09
Half a Orange
10
Half a Lime
12
After one day on the fruit it tasted like mulled wine mostly musty with a little citrus notes.
13
A couple of more days it developed big citrus notes. Maybe next time I will not add the lime.

Wait is over

14
Then strain and put back in a bottle.

Tasting Notes

It has a smooth and full mouth feel.  The color is reddish from the dried cherries.  There is no noticeable Rye Whiskey bite it is masked by rock candy and spices.  The dried cherries give it a little musty character which the citrus fruits counter act with their bright flavors. The lime really comes through.  The flavor is reminiscent of cough medicine but I would rather drink this than take cough medicine.  Looking forward to trying this the next time I get a cold or sore throat. It is not as sweet as the soda of my youth nor are the flavors very close.  But as an adult this is way better.

15

I also mixed it with Soda Water and that is was good also. The Lime in the Rock & Rye gave it a G&T like quality.
17
Anyway Enjoy.

Cajun Vacation: Day 4 NOLA

Time to move on.  We got up early and packed our bags for the drive to New Orleans.  First, we stopped for breakfast at T. Coon’s, which was up the road from our hotel.  It was full of local people, so we knew this had to be good.  The waitress brought one of those tall containers of coffee to the table.  I don’t mean a small pot.  It would easily serve maybe 10 people.  The coffee was called Mello Joy Cajun Coffee.  The name alone was great.

Rich and I decided to overdose on the crawfish and ordered the crawfish omelets.  I had grits while he got oatmeal.  It was wonderful and so much food.  Rick played it safe with a bacon omelet.  Later, we agreed that he did the right thing.

With breakfast done, it was time to join the race back up to I-10.  Today, the racers weren’t driving that fast, but they were still going a pretty good clip.  It might have been all of the police cars we saw along the way.  I bet the entire department was out in force.  We made up to the highway and back on our way east.

Rich wanted to stop in the Atchafalaya Welcome Center.  Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the U.S.  I-10 runs over it and most of the highway there is on stilts out of the water and mud.  We pulled off the highway and into the visitor center.  That first step off the highway was a doozey though.  I slowed enough not to bottom out the Subie.  Apparently, a car on the side of the road there wasn’t so lucky.

First stop at the center was to the bathroom.  Unfortunately, the ladies room was being cleaned.  I got directed to a bathroom in the center, but I heard that someone had been directed there already and it was a single stall.  I went in and stood around by the door.  I could hear the occupant finishing up, but then she started clearing her throat and making awful noises.  Then she started brushing her teeth and spitting a lot.  After 10 minutes, I started knocking on the door.  She continued to brush her teeth and make more noises.  By this time, I was dancing all over the place.  I knocked yet again.  The lady finally came out, but I couldn’t be nice because I had to run to pee!

After relief, I joined guys to look through the displays about the swamp, the wildlife and environment in the area.  I wanted to go to the water if I could.  The person at the desk said the only way to do this would be to go to the boat ramp.  Otherwise, I would have to do a swamp tour with one of the guides in the area.  We had no time for this, so the boat ramp it was.

We went out to the car and drove from one driveway to another to reach the ramp.  It was cool that ramp was actually between the east and west lanes of I-10.  The water was just an inlet that ran in from the swamp.  We couldn’t really see anything of the cypress trees and critters out there.  We were able to get some cool pictures of the pillars holding up the highway above us and the pool of water under the lanes.

Time to hit the road again for NOLA.  A few miles down the road, it was time to find the bathroom again.  Coffee has a way of just running through you, especially when you are just sitting around.  I pulled off the highway at an exit that advertised gas stations and a McD’s.  At the bottom of the ramp, the signs stated that everything was 7 miles south!  If I were smart, I would have gotten back on the highway.

My thinking was that everything was going to be off the highway here.  We went out a ways before I gave up and turned east again.  We traveled the smaller highway to a McD’s where we could take care of business and Rich could tank up again on caffeine.  Heading east, we followed the road until we could get back out to I-10.  It wasn’t too far out of the way and I tell myself that we took a side excursion into real-life Louisiana.

I-10 was leading us closer to New Orleans.  It was dropping a little further south all the time.  We finally came to Lake Ponchartrain, which seemed to spread out like the ocean.  It was huge!  The road was elevated and pretty far above the water.  We eventually made it to dry land and continued to NOLA.

After a while, we could see the SuperDome in front of us.  This was a sure sign that we had made it into the downtown area.  Now to find the French Quarter.  The Navi said only 2 miles ahead and to exist at Orleans.  We did this only to be dumped into the middle of road construction.  We followed the Navi directions to what should have been our street, but it was a blind alley.  From here, we turned and went back the way we came in.  Improvising meant turning right where possible and hitting another street.  This street was also under construction, but at least you could drive on it.

We went through the French Quarter and back out again so that we could drop a little further south.  From here, we could drive back into the Quarter and get to the street where our hotel was.  The directions were confusing and the streets were very narrow.  I managed to get down to Iberville St and to the Courtyard.  The entrance to the garage was very welcoming.  Glen, the valet, greeted us with a warm smile and helped us unload.  I’d be leaving the driving to him until we left again.

Our luggage was loaded onto a cart and stowed in the baggage holding area since our room wasn’t ready yet.  We went up to register and check in.  Since we were hungry and it was late, lunch seemed in order.  We got directions to a couple of locations to try and set off again.  Glen was manning the valet desk as we passed by and wished us well on our journey on foot.

Out in the street, it felt like chaos.  There were noises, traffic and a lot of people.  A couple of blocks south, we found the Acme Oyster House and Felix’s Seafood House.  Because Alex, my brother-in-law, suggested that we go to Acme, that’s where we headed.  We had to wait in line, but it was only for about 5 minutes.  The hostess came out to get names.  I told her Joy, but she wrote down Julie.  Rich happened to see that and told me.  I went back to her and explained.  She started to write Joy, but I changed it to Sharkey.  She laughed and said she loved it.

It’s actually an old trick from working on the road.  When we went somewhere, we gave Sharkey as the name.  It was hard to tell when they would yell out names who they wanted.  Sharkey is easy it hear and different than a regular name.  You can tell the difference when they call you.

We got seated at the bar.  The bartender took our drink orders for two Abita Amber Ales and one Purple Haze ale.  Rich ordered raw oysters to start.  Only Rick and I were eating them.  Rick has no interest in them raw.  Like I told him, you take a bite, chew once, and then slam it down with a drink of beer.  It’s the best.  Rich ordered chicken and sausage gumbo while Rick got the jambalaya.  I had a shrimp po’boy.  After another round of beers, we were ready to get started.  While waiting for the beer, the hotel called to say our room was ready.

We walked back to get our luggage and settle into our room for a quick rest.  It felt good to have a comfy place to rest.  That didn’t last long though.  After saying hey to Glen again, we made our way to Bourbon Street.  It’s really seedy and a lot of unwelcomed shops and fronts along the way.  I could see where the music would be good, but the strip clubs and things were just too much for me.

We got to St. Peter’s Street and headed to the river.  We figured we could check out the mighty Mississippi from this angle.  The wind was really cold and biting.  It was mid 70s, but the rain was feeling like it would start at any time.  We got back across the trolley tracks and through the panhandlers to find Café du Monde.  This is little place recommended for beignets and café.  It was a nice pick-me-up.

By the time we had gotten to Jackson Square, the rain was starting to come down.  We dashed to St. Peter’s Street to find shelter under one of the spreading Southern oaks.  Of course, we didn’t want to chance that lightening was following this storm.  We continued one down the street under the cover of overhangs on the sidewalks.

Since we were looking to get in from the rain, we figured we might as well go on to Pat O’Brien’s.  In the door, Rick got carded.  The gentleman looked us over and said we posed no threat to the establishment.  Since the rain had stopped, we asked to be seated in the courtyard.  We got a table under one of the umbrellas in case the rain came back.  Rich and Rick got Hurricanes.  I got a daiquiri.  I just couldn’t do a tall glass of alcohol.  Rick pointed out that Rich’s Hurricane had something in it.  Rich spun the glass around shouting, “Spit it out, you bastard,” in a Scottish accent.

We had a good time talking as the guys were trying to slowly make their way through the drink.  It is an experience to get through it without feeling too lightheaded.  In the meantime, we were being dive bombed by sparrows chasing each other.  One sparrow barely missed my head as he was trying to take a cherry away from the others and flew right at me on his way out.  The fountain by our table was periodically spraying us as the wind would blow through.

Drinks were done and it was time to leave.  We got our souvenir glasses wrapped up to go at the front door.  Meandering down Bourbon Street, we could see all kinds of things happening.  The music was starting to come out of the different bars.  There were a lot of college age kids and really old people.  It was a different mix.  There were girls who appeared to have come from some of the strip clubs hanging out in the street.  People were stopping on the sidewalk or just walking slow.  Travel times were going up for us.

I can’t say that I really cared much for Bourbon Street.  The things I don’t like were many.  The things I didn’t mind weren’t too much.  This was definitely not one place where I would think about spending too much time.  But then, I had plans and places to be for some of the time we had in New Orleans.  Rich was right that a couple of days would be enough.

After resting up and detoxing (Rick’s words), we decided to head out for dinner.  Alex had recommended Napoleon House for dinner.  We headed south toward the lake and missed our turn onto Chartres St.  One more block was Decatur.  We turned left and headed to St. Louis.  Another turn left brought us around again and up the block to our destination.  It was a very cool location.  On Alex’s suggestion, we asked to sit in the atrium.  The center was open to the sky, but the tables were around the walls and under a roof.

Our waiter, Paul, introduced us to the Pimm’s Cup, which was really delicious.  Rick had a Pimm’s Mint Julep to go with his alligator po’boy.  Rich had the    I wasn’t that hungry so I went for the pate and sausage platter, which was excellent.

Dinner being over, we wondered back the way we came to stop by a couple of clubs where we had heard music.  The Jazz Club was quiet now.  Big Mama’s Blues Lounge at House of Blues was having open mic night.  This could be interesting.  Janet Burgan was on stage doing folk.  The next guy up was from Milwaukee and had come down to film a video of his time at the mic.  The next guy was pretty depressing and so were his lyrics.  The next performer apparently plays in one of the lounges at the House of Blues and was honing his skills here.  That’s about all I could take and we headed back to the hotel.

We walked by Bourbon Street, which was blocked off and seemed to be ramping up for a good time.  Glen was still on duty and waved us on through.  I stopped in at the desk to ask some questions.  The people around the hotel here were so friendly and answered your questions with such big smiles. Maybe they  know something I don’t.  I was behind a man and his son who needed toothbrushes.  The lady behind the desk was chiding the son for letting his father forget them at home.  The boy turned to his dad and said, “Yeah.”

Good thing that I learned:  A Cajun is someone who is non-Acadian that marries an Acadian.  So I guess we are all Cajun wanna-bes.

Needless to say, the day was pretty great.  We ate, drank, ate some more, drank some more, and walked around and around.  Another great day in the vacation of the Zurek family.

Boat ramp into the swamp
Boat ramp into the swamp
Oyster Rockefeller for lunch at Acme
Oysters for lunch at Acme
Rich is happy with the oysters
Rich is happy with the oysters
Rich had Gumbo for lunch
Rich had Gumbo for lunch
Rick had jambalaya for lunch
Rick had jambalaya for lunch
Just had to take a picture of this one
Just had to take a picture of this one
Catching a breeze on the levee
Catching a breeze on the levee
Beautiful building for Jackson Brewery
Beautiful building for Jackson Brewery

St Louis Cathedral behind Jackson Square

Heading off to Pat O'Brien's for afternoon libations

Guys with their Hurricanes
Guys with their Hurricanes

Something floating around brought up the Scotish joke

Courtyard at Pat O'Broen's
Courtyard at Pat O’Broen’s
Looking up through the atrium at Napolean House at dinner
Looking up through the atrium at Napolean House at dinner

Cajun Vacation: Day 3 Avery Island and Gator Cove

Today, we had a bit of a slow start.  After breakfast at the hotel, we headed south to Avery Island.  For Rick, we were doing a tour of the Tabasco plant.  He so loves this stuff.  I do believe he puts it on just about everything he eats.  Rich had been in the area almost 30 years ago while working for Motorola on a Louisiana system.  He highly recommended the Jungle Gardens on the island.  So we were off to tour and wonder around.

I stopped in the New Iberia tourist information office once we got off the highway.  The man there gave me a lot of ideas for things to see and do.  He said that that the azaleas were in full bloom so the gardens would be full of blooms.   I love azaleas!

Down the road, we got into the swamps and crossed the bridge into Avery Island.  The brick buildings were ageless and had been standing for quite a while.  Walking up to the ticket office, I noticed the Tabasco sign and had to have a picture of the guys in front of it.  It was perfect.

In the museum, we went through all of the exhibits that told us the story of Tabasco.  Pretty amazing that one guy started something because he lost his job.  He knew pepper sauce and figured why not.  It has been a family business for many generations now.  The tour goes from the nursery where you see the different types of pepper plants, to the cooperage, to the mashing, to mixing and fermenting, and then on to bottling.  The line we watched was bottling garlic Tabasco for the Chinese market.  They are in just about every country of the world!

After the tour, we stopped by the Country Store to see what souvenirs were available.  Rick picked up a shirt and some sauce he couldn’t normally get.  We sampled the different sauces and some of the products made at the plant.  I most certainly don’t have the taste buds for the hot stuff.

We ambled down the road to the Jungle Gardens.  Rick ran in for a map and then we made our way down to the first stop.  This is bayou country back here.  With that, we came looking for gators.  Most of the ones we could spot were small.  We got a lot of great pictures.

The road led around through the Southern oaks hanging with Spanish moss and blooming trees and bushes.  We walked several trails.  There was a lot of timber bamboo growing in groves in the garden.  The estate uses it for railing and for bedding on the The Rookery for the storks.  We saw one of the oldest know trees in the state.  The Survey Tree was a large, overgrown tree back in 1810 when one of the settlers used it as a marker.  It was a rather larger and pretty heavily damaged tree as we looked it over.

One trail led back to a Buddha set up in a temple on a small rise.  The plaque says that the statue was pillaged from a temple in China when the Chinese Empire fell.  The rebel general scavenged the statue and sent it to New York to be sold.  A friend of the McIlhenney family told them about it and it was purchased and brought to Louisiana where it has resided since.  I’m surprised that it was not required to be returned to China.  It is beautiful and the hilltop is peaceful over the lagoon.

We took lots of pictures and walked all of the trails that we could.  We had plans to go to Gator Cove for lunch.  Rich wanted to do a crawfish boil.  Unfortunately, the Cove was closed and wouldn’t be open until 5:00.  Dinner it is then.

We stopped by the Blue Dog Café and had another round of seafood.  Rich had the crawfish enchilada.  Rick went for the crawfish pasta and I had gulf shrimp with more of the corn macque chow.  There was dirty rice with boudin sausage.  I love that stuff.  The flavor is so wonderful.

After our late lunch, we went over to the Acadian Village.  This is a collection of homes and businesses from around the area with ties to the Acadian people.  The lady in the country store was wonderful to talk to.  Her father grew up with the Acadian version of French.  She said her mother was Cajun (non-Acadian) and learned to speak French to communicate within the family group.

The houses all have history and each one is devoted to some aspect of life within the Acadian settlement.  There were lots of things to see and look at.  The village is arranged around its own version of a bayou.  It was nice to walk through and take our time.  Stopping into the offices, Rick and I went through the local art gallery.  I even had a conversation with one of the artists as she volunteers there.  She was so interesting.  From her speech and word choices, she was definitely Acadian.  It was bonus to talk with her about her art.

One the way back to the hotel to rest, Rich decided he had to have some of the local coffee to take back home.  I haven’t had any yet, that I know of, to judge if it was worth the trip to find some or not.  We passed a grocery and stopped in to see what we could find.  There were a couple of types in whole bean.  This was good enough for Rich.

Now we are back at the hotel resting up and waiting for dinner time.  Then it’s off to Gator Cove to enjoy a crawfish boil and probably get some of the BBQ to go with it.  More to come later.

Okay, I’m back.  The road outside of our hotel turned out to be a main road for everyone in Lafayette.  We turned the other direction and hoped that the Navi would come up with better directions.  It did.  We took a left and followed the road to the next road going east.  This road turned out to be directly across from the frontage road where I needed to go for the restaurant.  That was cool.

We drove down the hill and around the back of the building.  Hurrahs went up as the Open light was lit.  Time to get some crawfish boil.  I did stop the guys from going right in.  We just had to take a picture with the front doors.  The gators and crawfish were so cool.

Inside, the young lady at the podium had a great accent.  We heard y’all a bunch of times.  We got seated and ordered drinks.  When she returned we had figured out the order we wanted.  Then she threw a wrench into the order.  Do you want 3 lbs. or 5 lbs.?  That was the question.  Rich made the decision for 5 lbs of crawfish, some sausage, corn, and potatoes.  We ordered boudin and pepperjack cheese as an appetizer.

The appetizer came as eggrolls filled with goodness.  I so love boudin sausage.  It has such flavor without a lot of burn.  I do see that it is different from each person that you order it from.  Our waitress returned soon with a big black container.  When the lid came off, it was full of red bugs topped with corn and potatoes.  This was the moment for pictures before we delved in and learned the skills to twist the tail and pull out the sweet meat.

I had our waitress show me on one of the bugs first and show me how it was expertly done.  She deftly twisted the tail.  It came away easily with the outer shell attached.  Peeling off the shell, the tail was exposed and ready for dipping.  The dip was more like Russian dressing, but you could add hot sauce or horseradish.

We began digging into dinner.  Pretty soon, 5 lbs of bugs was down to just a couple.  Rick and I had reached the end.  I still wanted dessert.  Rich took care of the leftovers.  At the back of the room where sinks where you could scrub up and remove the seasoning.  It didn’t really burn the skin much, but the lips were on fire a bit.  It was highly recommended that the guys wash up good before going to the bathroom.

By the time I got back to the table, the dessert tray had come and gone.  I heard there were great things on it though.  The waitress came back with the tray and it was scrumptious.  I ordered the strawberry and dark chocolate cheesecake.  Rich got the bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  Rick got the Butterfinger cake.  Yes, it was all heavenly.

Time to pay the bill.  I just had to get t-shirts from the place first.  The guys got gray shirts that say Got Crawfish on the front with the Gator Cove logo on the back.  They were really nice.  We talked to the owner for a bit.  I guess all of the good seafood was being shipped to the Northeast since Sandy to meet demands and good money.  That was sad.  I guess they had seen better days with all of the restaurants that had opened in the area.  This was type of place that I really look for when I go to an area.  It has atmosphere and great food.

Well, dinner was over and we were so full.  It was time to head back to the hotel and settle in.  I can finish this blog and post it along with pictures from the day.  It was definitely a great day on vacation.  Tomorrow, we head to New Orleans for a couple of days.

Rich and Rick outside of the Tabasco Factory
Rich and Rick outside of the Tabasco Factory

Barrels of pepper pulp ready for formenting

Vats of pepper pulp and vinegar fermenting.
Vats of pepper pulp and vinegar fermenting.
Rick with his favorite one
Rick with his favorite one
Certified sign from the Queen
Certified sign from the Queen
Spanish moss in the Southern oaks
Spanish moss in the Southern oaks
Gators on the bank
Gators on the bank
It's just a baby gator
It’s just a baby gator
Azaelas in bloom
Azaelas in bloom
Double beauty
Double beauty
Heading down the
Heading down the
Buddha in the garden
Buddha in the garden
Purloined Buddha in its pagoda
Purloined Buddha in its pagoda
Doing limbo under the oak tree
Doing limbo under the oak tree
Pink camelia
Pink camelia
More cameilas
More cameilas
Rick versus Massurat the gator
Rick versus Massurat the gator
Lizard chasing a moth
Lizard chasing a moth
Visit to the Acadian Village
Visit to the Acadian Village
Rich feeding the fish and turtles
Rich feeding the fish and turtles
Two big kids feeding the fish and turtles.
Two big kids feeding the fish and turtles.
Welcome to the Gator Cove
Welcome to the Gator Cove
Crawfish boil with Rich and Rick for dinner
Crawfish boil with Rich and Rick for dinner
Rick getting a lesson is twisting the tail
Rick getting a lesson is twisting the tail
Rich is the expert at getting to the meat of things
Rich is the expert at getting to the meat of things

Six Degrees of Separation in the Unexpected Places

Around Thanksgiving, I settled in to watch an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are.”  I’m a little addicted to the show for the genealogy searches and the wonderful stories that are told about family members.  They typically do searches for stars or important people in the world who want to know more about their roots.  This episode was for Cindy Crawford, who is originally from just south of where I live now in Illinois.

As they got started, I liked how they tied in her grandmother’s story to Cindy.  These were people that Cindy knew and had history with in her life.  It’s always warm to show a family history.  That’s not always the case in families though.

They jumped ahead to where Cindy’s family started in the new world.  Her family traced back to the Trowbridges of New Haven, Connecticut.  How interesting.  I had recently traced my family line to the Trowbridges back to New Haven, Connecticut.  It got better though.  The next name jumped out at me right away.  That guy is in my family tree!

From here, my interest was definitely riveted to the next part of the program.  They were also talking about MY 8th great grandfather, Thomas Trowbridge.  He brought his family to Massachuettes in 1636.  They later moved to New Haven when they didn’t agree with the doctrine of the community in their town.

Thomas’ wife died in 1641, leaving him and their children on their own, including my 7th great-grandfather, William.  In the next few years, Thomas made a trip back to England at the request of the merchant company.  While there, he left his children in the care of a servant, who was to look after them.

While Thomas was in England, the English civil war broke out.  Thomas was called upon to defend his hometown of Taunton against the Royalist army.  He was appointed the Captain of the town forces and prepared the town for a siege.  Through his efforts and the luck that the Royalist army was not able to continue the siege, the town survived.  He was awarded honors for his service.

In the meantime, the servant left in charge of the children took the money and ran.  Luckily, the town of New Haven looked after Thomas’ children.  They grew up and became prominent citizens of the town.  The servant was eventually arrested and sued for the money he stole.

Thomas stayed in England and remarried.  One of his other sons had returned with him and also stayed.  My family continued to thrive in the new world and served their new country as well as their ancestors served the old.  My 6th great grandfather moved his family to Kentucky, where many of my family still lives.

Cindy’s story didn’t stop with the tale of Thomas Trowbridge.  They were able to trace her line through a maternal ancestor in the Trowbridge line back to Charlemagne, the great ruler who united all of Europe together in a vast empire in the 700s.  Wait, this is still my line!  That means I can trace my roots back to Charlemagne also!  How cool is that!

I continue to work on my genealogy to fill out the limbs as well as to push the tree higher to as far back as I believe I can take it.  This gives me more cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives, even if they are many, many times removed.  It’s still fun to see the names and read the stories that people provide from their lives.

It struck me the other day that I am possibly related to most everyone who lives on the East Coast, if they have family roots that stretch back that far.  I saw that Sarah Jessica Parker is in the family tree as well as the story I saw for Cindy Crawford.  I’ve seen other recognizable names along the way.

I always thought that genealogy is a form of Six Degrees of Separation.  You can tie your family to so many people in history and other lines.  I haven’t tied myself to Kevin Bacon yet, but I’m sure that my New England lineage will eventually put me in the ballpark.

One of the many connections that I’ve known about for many years is to the original settlers of Kentucky.  My 5th great grandmother, Phoebe Bryan, is a sister to Rebecca Bryan Boone, wife of Daniel Boone.  One of my ancestors, William Butler, was a member of the Long Hunters. who came to Kentucky to hunt and take back the meat and furs to Virginia and the Carolinas.  William and another hunter were some of the earliest white men to live in Kentucky to try and establish an outpost for others coming to the area.  My family still lives around the area where William and the Long Hunters came each year for their hunting trips.

Recently, a Zurek who works in the Krakow office came to Schaumburg to help support testing efforts.  I had emailed with him in the past and he was aware that we were here.  We arranged to met him for lunch one afternoon through some common friends.  Our tag line for the next few weeks was, “All the Zureks are in Schaumbug.”

Matheusz and his family live just south of Rudy Rysie, the home village of Rich’s great grandfather.  We speculated that somewhere in history, they probably came from similar roots.  On a map, he was able to draw out where most of the Zureks live in Poland.  This area is within 25 miles of Rudy Rysie and Matheusz’s town.  Having a common ancestor probably isn’t much of a stretch then.

Anyway, the point of this ramble was that you are related to all kinds of people.  It’s hard to image that you have anything in common with someone who is famous or lives in an entirely different part of the country that where you grew up.   But through common names, goals, and shared ancestors, you are more alike in wanting to know your family than you can image.

It would be so cool to find a branch or leaves that tie me to my favorite people.  Since they already feel like family, it would just pull it altogether nicely to have the same genes and smiles in common.

European Vacation: Day 20 Guten Abend, Frankfurt

We flew in from Cracow this afternoon.  Rich is still having trouble with his back, but he is determined not to waste our last day in Germany.  I looked through the recommendations and find things in the Alte Frankfurt that I would like to see.  There appear to be a lot of restaurants there also.  We can have one last German meal before we leave tomorrow.

We stop by the front desk to ask some questions about the best way to do things.  The cheapest way is to take the shuttle back to the airport and get on the train going into town.  That’s what we do.  We purchase the return tokens from the desk and step outside to wait for the shuttle.  It is a beautiful day here.  There are clouds moving across the sky, but the sun is out and providing some warmth.

The shuttle arrives and there are six of us going to the airport.  It appears that only one of the people is actually catching a flight.  Like so many around us, he is sneezing and coughing.  I hope I get back home before any of that kicks in.  We hand our tokens to the driver as we climb into the minibus.

At the airport, we go in search of the bahnhof.  It is located down one level from the arrival deck.  We review the screens overhead for where we want to go and the number for that train.  The ticket machines are all automated and there is a long line.  As we get our turn at the machine and we are trying to make selections, a gentleman steps out from behind us to help.  We can get the machine to display in English, but the selections don’t match the screen we were reviewing.

The gentleman tries to help us.  Eventually, he hands us a group ticket for 5 and takes the money I would have put into the machine.  He even hands me change, though it is more than I would have gotten back from the machine.  Rich is very skeptical and thinks that we just got ripped off.  The group ticket would cover our trip and back from the center.  I tell him to go with it until we find out differently.

We go down one more level to the train tracks.  Our train is next and is there is about three minutes.  That timing worked out just fine.  The door to the train open and we step on.  No one has stopped us yet.  We find seats and start reviewing the screen for our stop.  A gentleman in the seat across from Rich confirms where we want to get off the train.

On the way, we decide to go to another stop that will put us a few blocks north of where we want to be.  Let’s hope the group ticket covers that.  This is the Hauptwach stop.  No one seems to be checking tickets.  I believe the system here uses the fact that everyone is honest and buys the correct ticket, if they buy at a ticket at all.  It looks like the group ticket works then.

We come out of the train station to the street above in a square.  This one is more modern than where we are headed.  There are some very old buildings surrounding the square though.  One of these looks like an older station that might have been used in earlier years.  St. Katherine Church is in the square.

We find the street that we need to get down to the Romer square and walk toward the river.  As we get to the cross streets, it is hard to see if that cross street leads you to the square.  It just appears to hit a dead end.  We decide to walk to the river and look around.  There is a very nice path and park along the river here.

This is the Main River that runs through Frankfurt.  There are barges and river cruise boats up and down at the stretch.  With the wind, it is very choppy today.  We start to walk in the direction of the old square.  I forgot about the aggressive nature of the bicyclists in Germany.  They whiz by so fast and I’m almost struck a couple of times.  They don’t seem to take tourists into account when they are flying down the path.

We cross the main street and can finally see the square.  There are a lot of old timber buildings along here.  I had read that the Romer was sold by the business family who owned it in 1406 to the city of Frankfurt for their rathaus (or town hall).  It is a very nice building.  I can see that many of the buildings around it are about the same age.  The square is large with a fountain in the center.

Today, there is a wooden framework on the ground with lots and lots of green figures all around the fountain.  The German signs don’t make sense to me.  I can’t figure out what is going on and what is being depicted here.  Rich can’t determine it either.

We go into the Information office on the square to get information in English.  It’s easier to determine what to make sure we see then.  The map costs us 50 cents.  Not too bad.  Out in the square again, we walk around the fountain so that we can go to St. Mary’s Cathedral in one of the streets behind the square.  We can see the beautiful tower of the church, so it’s not hard to find.

We look at the menus for a couple of the restaurants on the square.  One of them serves Weihenstephan and Rich decides this is the place.  We walk on around the square and down one of the side streets.  We head toward a museum and see a pile of dirt in the courtyard.  It is unexpected to see dirt like this, even though there is a lot of construction going on around us here.

The courtyard holds an exhibit called the Sonic Fountain.  This fountain is a large pool of water with microphones all along the bottom and sides.  There is an arrangement of spray nozzles up above the pool.  One nozzle begins to drip and you get an echoing tone.  Another nozzle begins to drip as the first nozzle increases its flow.  This happens with multiple nozzles.  The sound it creates is like a symphony orchestra as different instruments join.

We found a plaque on the wall about the exhibit and its artist.  The exhibit is to show the sounds related to rain and how it produces different sounds.  The nozzles overhead are programmed to simulate different types of rain to give different sounds.  It was a stunning idea and how the guy pulled it off was amazing.  It was so beautiful to hear.

We continue through the courtyard to St. Mary’s.  You can climb up the tower and look around the old city.  I don’t Rich’s back is up for that.  We wander around the streets surrounding the church.  The architecture is just amazing.  Most of the old city is from the late 1380s through the mid 1400s.  There has been reconstruction from to time, but you can still see many of the old architecture.  It is wonderful to look around see time through the centuries.

Now it is time for dinner.  We head back down one of the streets toward the old square.  When we get closer, I can see a beautiful structure I have to check out first.  It is the Ratskellar behind the town hall.  Across from it is St. Paul’s Church.  Just as in Poland, there is a church on every corner.  Rich wants a picture of the war memorial because the female figure on top is not fully dressed.  I complain to him about that and he points to a male figure on the side of the church that is totally nude.  He says there is equal opportunity nudity in this city.

We walk back to the square and to the restaurant he picked out earlier.  It’s a little windy and there is some rain trying to come down.  We decide to sit inside.  I pick a seat by the window.  These are benches so there is no back for Rich to rest again.  I insist so I can watch the square and the people walking by.

Our server gives us menus, which have English descriptions for the dishes.  We’ve already picked out what we want as our last meal in German.  We start out with liver dumpling soup for each of us.  I’m having Jagerschnitzel with spatzel.  Rich has schweinehaxen with potatoes.  We do plan to have a beer or two and even dessert with coffee at the end.  We have Euros to spend and memories to make.

Our beers arrive followed by the food.  It is all so wonderful.  The flavors are just what we wanted from our last meal here.  One thing we enjoy is German food.  It is hard to come by in the States just the way you can get it here.  We finish off the meal with coffee, apple strudel, and cheesecake.

I go to find the toiletten, which is down the winding staircase and in the basement.  It is very dark and nothing much there.  I’ve been seeing people coming and going this staircase.  There is no one down here.  I see a doorway that leads out.  There must be tunnels here to get around the old part of the city.  I find the Damen (Ladies) room and go back up the winding staircase.  It is pretty cool.

Time to head back to the train station and to the hotel.  We decide to walk the river for a while and then take one of the streets back up to the main train station.  We do fine until we get into a maze of traffic circles and trams.  We can see the station just ahead of us, but it is a circuitous route to get over to it.  We finally make it and inside.

Now the real fun begins.  There are local and long distance trains in here.  We have to figure out where to go and how to find the right train.  Rich is trying to read screens and boards.  I figure I’ll ask at the information desk.  I get into line and look around for Rich.  He is wandering off to the left of me.  He comes back and says the Information line is too long.  I look at the people in front of me and it doesn’t look too long.

A gentleman behind me says that I need to go to the back of the line.  I turn to look and him and ask him to repeat what he said.  He points behind him and the long line of people and says I need to move to the back of the line.  Apparently, there was only a break in the line and I didn’t see the long line behind.  I apologize and agree with Rich for once.  The line is too long to wait for.

We find a ticket machine that appears to work and we buy one-way tickets back to the airport.  Rich doesn’t trust the group ticket that we are holding.  Now we have to find the right platform for the train to the airport.  The screen says it is on 103.  We got down the escalator and try to stay out of the way of people using the left to keep walking.

Down on the platform, we are looking for the S8 train.  The S1 train shows up first.  People scramble to get on board.  A young man tries to catch the door to get inside, but the door continues to close.  The train sits for a minute before the doors reopen.  I guess they have that capability, but I don’t see how it knows.  There don’t appear to be any conductors that I can see to make that determination.

The train moves out and the S8 train is on its way in to the station in about 3 minutes.  When the train arrives, we step on board and find seats.  There are two older women and two younger women who sit near us.  They appear to be heading for the airport also.  From their discussion, I believe they are Spanish.  The younger girls talk to one of the locals about which stop they need.  I’m not sure they really understand.

We arrive at the airport and get back up to the arrival level so we can wait for the shuttle.  There are three men already standing there with cases.  I see the shuttle stop at the first stop, which is not its usual thing to do.  Someone flagged it down.  The shuttle finally moves on to us.  All of the men are waiting for the same shuttle.

I wait as the suitcases are loaded and people are getting on board.  There is only room for 8 and there are 9 of us.  The guys in the back row are nice enough to make room for me so I don’t get stuck at the airport.  We move on to the next stop even though we don’t have any more room.  Luckily, there is no one waiting there.  We get back to the hotel and start to pile out.

Back in our room, we get comfy and settle in for the evening.  This is our last night on the road.  That is if you don’t count the night that we spend chasing the sun across the sky.  It is a 9 hour flight.  Tomorrow night, we spend in our own beds, in our own house, and in our own town.

European Vacation: Day 19 Journey back to normal

That day finally came.  We had breakfast one last time in Zakopane and then packed up to return to Krakow.  I’m not ready to return to normal life yet.  Vacation has been exciting and wonderful.  I’ve seen so much.

We could see the front of the hotel from our windows.  So we sat in the living room reading until the van arrived to carry us north to the hotel by the airport.  I didn’t have any plans made for how we would spend the afternoon.  I just knew we would be near the airport for our early departure.

Our driver pulled into the driveway and got turned around before I knew he was there.  We gathered up our stuff and locked up the room.  Rich went on down to meet the guy.  I dropped off the key and to say good-bye.  I said, “Dziekuka,” which is thank you in Polish.

Outside, our driver, David, was putting the first of the suitcases into the van.  This is not the same David as our trip to Rudy Rysie.  My suitcase weighed a ton today.  I’m not sure why.  I only added a couple of things.  Of course, I had most of the dirty clothes in my bag.  He put it into the van without much trouble, so I didn’t have to be too embarrassed.

David explained that he was going to take the country roads back up to Krakow.  There was a lot of construction on the main road.  We weren’t in a big hurry so seeing more of the countryside was OK with us.  David lived on the southside of Krakow and said he usually did the run from Zakopane to Krakow.  He had a head start anyway by being on that side of town.

We went through some beautiful little villages.  David explained that one of the villages was probably the oldest in this area.  All of the homes were wood log structures.  You could easily see that the houses were much older than the ones around them.  The houses and the barns are one structure here as well.

We left the mountains for a valley for a bit before we started to climb back up the other side.  There were meadows with grazing cows.  Here the cows have a chain attached to their neck with a weight on the other end of the chain.  David said this was to discourage the cows from wandering away.  Cows tend to be lazy and I image pulling the weight would make them think twice about moving too much.

We made it into Krakow in good time.  It only took us an hour and 40 minutes from Zakopane.  I was worried about traffic and the horror stories of 6 hours traffic jams.  I guess I didn’t have to worry after all.  As we came up from the south and headed to the airport, we saw the monastery on the mountain.  We had seen this while touring Kosciuszko’s Mound earlier with Marcin and Aneta.  We had a good idea of where we were in relationship to downtown.

I had made reservations at the Hilton Garden Inn by the airport.  I didn’t realize it was directly across from the terminal building.  So much for having to figure out how to get there.  We could just walk across the street!  We said good-bye to David and went in to register.

This morning, Rich was starting to have some trouble with his back.  By the time we got to our hotel by the airport, he was really having trouble.  We got upstairs to our room and he sat down.  That was a mistake.  After a bit, he was able to get up and take Ibuprofen.  Then he crawled into bed to stretch out and wait for it to take effect.  While he slept, I got checked into our flight, boarding passes printed, and toured around the hotel a bit.  It’s a pretty basic hotel with few amenities.  It’s just for overnight and then we move on to Frankfurt.

Later, Rich got up and we walked along the road by the terminal to see where we go for departures in the morning.  We needed to be over at the terminal by 8:30 in the morning to check bags and figure out where our plane was.  That will seem pretty early for us after vacationing all this time.

Tomorrow, we fly into Frankfurt.  We’ll have the afternoon and evening to go downtown and look around.  I figure we’ll eat dinner down there and be back at the hotel to sleep.  Our flight leaves later in the day on Wednesday.  At least we won’t be rushing all over the place to catch planes and get through securit

European Vacation: Day 18 Last day in Zakopane

Sunday.  It’s our last full day in Zakopane.  The sun shines in the windows very bright.  It should be a great day to go out and enjoy the area.  We just haven’t decided what we want to do yet.  After breakfast, we sat down with the maps and Marcin’s recommendation for the overhead tram to the top of the mountains.  Our final decision was to hike in the Tatra National Park.

We gathered our stuff and made for the door.  Our walk would take down a side street and over to the main road that runs up to the park.  From there, we would hike one trail to the Strazyska Polana (or glade) and then take another trail up to a waterfall.  This would take us about 3 hours total.

We could tell we were heading up to the park.  The streets here were gradually inclined upwards.  There was a lot of tourist stuff back in through these streets.  We saw a lot of willas and pokoje (room) for rent signs.  Most of them were lovely wooden structures in the Highland style.  I recognized a lot of the names for my search for a place to stay.

Once we got to the entrance of the park, there were outdoor grills and places to eat.  We thought this would be a good spot for lunch after the hike.  There were lots of people milling about and moving to the gate.  We paid our entrance fee and moved up the trail.

Most of the trail was a gradual incline that kept rising upward.  We passed the Ranger’s house by the first creek.  Wouldn’t this be a lovely place to live?  Rich agreed, but one day that wooden bridge would fall.  It was in pretty bad shape right now.

As the trail climbed, it became more and more cobblestoned.  The rough rocks sticking up through the dirt were becoming more and more smoothed off by the feet kicking over them.  Halfway up the mountain, a small stream of water took over the path as it found the easiest way down to join the stream on one side of the path.  The water made the trail muddy in some places and a little bit slippery.

The last push up the mountain left us at the Polana.  It was a rest area where you could buy food and drinks.  Most everyone had packed their own items in and were stopping to enjoy them before moving on.

On the way up, we had seen some serious hikers with walking sticks, packs, and well made hiking shoes.  Then you had the casual hiker wearing sandals and shorts.  We fell more in the casual hikers because of our tennis shoes.  We had wanted to pack in our hiking equipment, but decided not to and save a little money.  It would have come in handy again today for this hike.

On the way up, we passed a young girl of about 4 or 5.  She is doing a good job of moving up the mountain with her hiking stick.  I remember when Rick was that age and you had to keep prodding him to hike a few more steps.  It’s funny, because this young girl is talking almost the entire way.  We see her at different points on the hike and she is still talking.  She’s going to be very tired by the end.

After resting up and catching our breath, we moved on up the mountain to find the trail going to the waterall.  Three trails split off at this point.  The east and west branches went along the valley floor just below the mountains.  The one going north headed to the waterfall.

We headed up the trail, which soon became just a cobblestoned path.  The stones became larger as we moved upward.  It was like marching up stairs at some points.  Where there was shade or a small stream, the stones were slippery.  This was a popular path and a lot of people where coming up behind us.

Since I was going slower, I let others pass me by.  Rich went on up the path to stay out of the way.  I continued on at my own comfortable pace.  When I reached the top, Rich was standing in front of a small trickle that came down the mountainside.  This was probably the end of the season and there was little water coming down the mountain.

It didn’t stop people from congregating in front of the small falls to have their picture taken.  Rich got a couple of shots showing the trickling water.  There was a small pool of water that had collected at the bottom of the wall.  It was nothing spectacular.

After resting up from the hiking up, we started our way back down the mountain.  Going down was a lot harder in some places than going up.  The uneven stones made it hard to get a foothold as you stepped from one level to another.  This slowed me down quite a bit.  We made it back to where the trails split and could see down to the Polana below us.

We didn’t stop for a break, but kept moving down the mountain.  At this point, it was mostly gravel on our side of the trail.  Here and there, it would turn to cobblestones and you had to pick your way carefully over them.

People would spread out across the trail in places and it was getting hard to pass.  I guess they don’t read the rules of the trail here.  We had stopped to read them in case there was information we needed to know.  First rule was to walk to the right and allow others to pass you as needed.

We made it down to the entrance of the park.  Now it was time for lunch.  We found a table at one of the outdoor grills and ordered kielbasa, cheese, and chleb with pork lard spread.  I know that sound gross, but it wasn’t.  The pork lard has cracklings and herbs mixed into it.  The bread used for this is course and grainy.  It is like eating a very tasty butter on the bread.  It’s another one of those things that Rich and I fell in love with.

We got our kielbasa with a rye bread.  You could make a sandwich or eat them separately.  The sausage was so tasty.  We never have anything like this at home.  The mountain cheese is a solid hunk that is heated from the grill, but not runny.  We had this served with cranberry jam.  I love this stuff.  Rich keeps asking how this could be bad.  With a side of beer, we had the best lunch ever.  I guess I keep saying that about all of these outdoor grills.

After lunch, we continued our walk down the mountain and back into town.  We passed a piekarina (bakery) where we could get coffee and cake.  First, I wanted to head back to the hotel.  Rich agreed and kept moving forward.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we headed back out to find that little bakery for our afternoon kawa and cake.  As we walked up the street, there was a young man walking his little puppy ahead of us.  The pup was maybe 8 to 10 weeks old.  The man was trying to train the puppy to walk along.  I’m afraid the puppy was getting distracted by everything she saw.

We walked up the street and around the corner.  There was the bakery.  It was perfect.  We could get coffee and something sweet.  There was outdoor seating so we could enjoy the moment and watch the people go by.  Inside, a couple of kids were racing around in front of the case trying to decide what to have.

I stepped up to the register to order my sweet roll and black cawa.  Rich got poppyseed cake and a white coffee.  Here, you order your coffee black or white.  Other types of coffee are available, but it takes a lot of explanation to get those.  I like to keep it simple.  We got our cakes and I went to the counter for our coffees.

Outside, we took chairs on the porch overlooking the street.  A lot of people were walking by either going to the park or coming back from the park.  You tell those coming back because they looked tired.  The coffee was dark and rich.  I’m going to miss this type of coffee when I’m back home.  I’ll have to look around for something similar so I can relive these moments.

Reluctantly, we walked back to the hotel.  We were tired from the hike, but energized by the coffee.  We walked by the house with the four Great Pyrenees dogs in the yard.  I almost missed them the first time.  They only really bark when another dog walks by, like the puppy, or someone gets too close to their fence.  Otherwise, they are lying the shadows trying to keep cool.

I’m taking this time to write up my blog for the day, even though we aren’t done.  Rich is reading his paper and getting caught up on the news.  It’s only 10:00 AM at home.  But here, our day is winding down.  Pretty soon, we’ll go off to have dinner at a traditional restaurant close to the hotel.  This will be our last meal in Zakopane.  Traditional still sounds like the best thing.

Giewont Mountain above the Polana.
Giewont Mountain above the Polana.
House where the four Great Pyrennes dogs live.
House where the four Great Pyrennes dogs live.
Starting up the trail in the Tatra National Park.
Starting up the trail in the Tatra National Park.
Rock structures that we normally call dells at home.
Rock structures that we normally call dells at home.
Rich going on up the trail to the falls.
Rich going on up the trail to the falls.
Rest stop at the Strazysk Polana.
Rest stop at the Strazysk Polana.
Looking up at Giewont Mountain.
Looking up at Giewont Mountain.
The waterfall that had little water in it.
The waterfall that had little water in it.
Waterfall that is almost dry.
Waterfall that is almost dry.
Rich digging into the lunch we are having today.
Rich digging into the lunch we are having today.
House that the road has to bend around.
House that the road has to bend around.
Kawa and cake in the afternoon at the bakery.
Kawa and cake in the afternoon at the bakery.

European Vacation: Day 17 Heaven in Zakopane

I opened my eyes this morning and concentrated on the ceiling.  What room was I in?  I didn’t recognize the one above.  I turned over and there was Rich still sleeping.  That was better.  At least we were in the same place.

Then I remembered we were in Zakopane.  This was the beginning of the countdown on vacation.  I had no real plan for what we would do today.  Rich said he would be just as happy sitting around doing nothing.  He was tired from all of the walking and looking.

After breakfast, we dressed for the cool weather and headed to the tram station to take us to the top of the mountains on the left side of the valley here.  This side was the shorter of the two ridges.  We could walk to the station on this side.  The other station required a bus ride and I hadn’t figured that one out yet.

We purchased tickets and walked into the station just as one of the trams came in.  This tram runs on a cable system through the ground.  There is one tram on each end and they pass in a roundabout in the middle.  There were only a few people waiting to get on when we arrived.  Parents and grandparents were waiting with smaller children to get the very front or very back of the tram.

We settled for the middle car, but had to stand since the one seat was taken up quickly.  As we started off, the bell rang like a trolley car.  A trail ran along one side of the track where you could hike up to the top.  I think the book said it would take a couple of hours for that hike.  The tram would work just fine for me.

At the top, we stepped out and down the steps to the doorway at the bottom of the station.  From there, we could see a platform where you could view the mountains.  A set of stairs took you down to a sandpit with deck chairs.  Most of these were already filled with people.  The sun wasn’t strong and it was a little chilly since it was early in the morning.  It was probably on quarter after 10.

We walked up to the road that appeared to run the length of the ridge here.  This road was lined with little huts and trailers for food and shops.  We walked down to the end where a communications tower was sitting.  This tower had all sorts of antennas on it.  Since we work in the Comm world, we kind of geek out over this type of stuff.

As the road curved down the backside of the mountain, we walked by the area that is the bunny hill when this is a ski resort.  We saw only houses this way.  A few cars were coming up the road from this direction.  It must be the main road leading up from town.

We turned around and headed in the other direction.  We walked past little shops selling shoes, scarves, hiking sticks, gloves, leather goods, and on and on.  I would stop to look at something now and then.  For the most part, we kept walking.

We walked by a large grill where a man was getting food prepared for the crowd today.  The grill was huge and down with firewood.  There were metal trays hanging down over the grill, but not into the flames.  I realized these were warming baskets where he would put meat that was ready for someone to buy.  A board in front of the grill listed all kinds of meats and sausages that you could buy.

We continued to walk in a southerly direction down the road.  We agreed to stop at a large structure before turning back.  This structure turned out to be where one of the many chairlifts ran up the side of the mountain.  Rich went off to find the toaletty or WC.  I watched people coming up the hill in wide, open baskets.

The toaletty ended up costing you 2 zloty to use.  In most of Europe, it costs money to use the bathrooms.  This is one way for them to maintain the property.  Rich said this one should definitely been free.  We walked back down the road with an eye for someplace to eat.  One of the open grills looked promising, but he didn’t sell piwo (beer).  We decided to go back to the largest grill thinking we could get a good assortment to choose from.

We went into the building, which was full of people.  Service was very slow.  We tried to ask for food, but the girl behind the counter was so busy that she didn’t have time to help.  Rich took his beer out to the patio where we discussed what to do next.  We watched the food being prepared and tried to figure out how to buy some.

In the end, we gave up on the idea of eating here.  As Rich was finishing his beer, four guys came in and started setting up to play music.  There were two violins, a bass violin, and an accordion player.  They were playing mountain music, which would be like bluegrass and country music here.  We listened for a bit before hunger drove off to look for real food.

We walked a few steps down the road when I saw a large deck with a beautiful view.  There was a small grill and Rich noticed they sold beer.  We got in line for the grill and gave the man our order.  He told is it would be about 5 more minutes and to come back.  Rich went to get beer and I went off to claim a table with a view.

We had gotten settled when I heard someone yell.  The grill man was telling us things were ready.  Rich went up to pick up the food.  We got kielbasa and kishka with grilled cheese.  The plates came with bread and mustard.  The cheese isn’t like you think.  The cheese here is a hunky of cow or sheep cheese that has been smoked.  The grill only warms it up.  We settled in to eat and found the tastes almost heavenly.  We shared the food between us with chunks of the cheese.

No one chases you away from the tables here.  We had lunch and just sat to watch the clouds gather around the mountaintops across the way.  Then the clouds would push on leaving the tops exposed.  We sat there for a couple of hours watching the people and talking.  The temperatures had warmed up when we first arrived.  About 1:30, we could tell they were dropping a little bit with the clouds coming in.

Rich had gotten a second beer and brought me a beer with raspberry syrup added.  We had seen several people with this and I decided to try it.  It was a strong raspberry flavor.  You almost forgot it was in beer.  I really liked the flavor a lot.  I need to figure out how to duplicate it at home.  I just didn’t know if I could get raspberry syrup this strong in the States.

However, the clouds receded and the sun was getting through again.  We could feel the temps getting back up to good warmth.  We noticed that some of our neighbors were starting to move on.  We had not been the only ones to hang out on the deck for a while.  We finished up our drinks and decided to head back down the mountain.

We started up the road before we realized we went the wrong way for the tram station.  We backtracked a bit before we realized we had been sitting right next to the station all along.  A tram was already there and unloading when we arrived.  This time, we were able to get a seat.  With the drinking, this was probably a good thing.

At the bottom of the mountain, we got out and started to wonder through the market.  I had deiced I wanted a pair of house slippers, but not the goat’s wool ones.  They would be too warm.  I found a pair with the traditional materials and a lesser pile inside.  They were only 20 zloty (about $5).  They young man helped me get a size for my feet.

We wondered back under the street and up the other side.  I wanted to go to the drug store to find a couple of items.  Rich used the opportunity to get kawa and watch the crowds.  I didn’t find one of my items though.  I collected Rich from the coffee shop and stopped by the Apteka to ask for tape.  One of my fingers was giving me a lot of trouble from ligament problems.  I wanted to strap it so that it wouldn’t bend.  The young lady behind the counter was able to help me.

We headed back toward the hotel.  We were walking behind several groups where the women had purchased scarves.  They were all the same color.  It looked like a band of gypsies moving down the street.  Rich made the comment that it was a good way to tell your group by the scarf they all wore.

I had almost forgotten about needing batteries for my camera when we got back to the hotel.  We crossed the street to see if the market had any.  We didn’t see any there.  There was a small shop next door that said paper products.  I tried to ask the lady there for batteries, but she didn’t understand me.  Luckily, Rich saw them on the wall and I pointed them out to her. She said, “oh, batteries.”  Isn’t that what I said?  We found that the accent on a word sometimes makes what you say mean nothing.  I guess we have the same problem at home.

We got into our room and collapsed.  We were hot and tired.  First things first, I got started with pictures and posting to Facebook.  It was after 9:00 AM at home and we were well into the afternoon here.  We got our cheeses and tasted what we had purchased.  They were awesome.  Being tired, Rich went off to nap while I started this blog.  The air grew chilly, so I closed up windows.

Now it is dinner time.  I work up Rich to start the process of choosing a place.  I think we are going with Marcin’s suggestion tonight for a traditional place.  It is called Gazdowo Kuznia.  I’ll let you know how it turned out.

Back after dinner.  The place was packed, which is always a good sign.  Rich got the potato pancake with goulash.  I opted for spinach and goat cheese raviolis.  First, we had their version of Zurek soup.  It was very tasty.  We don’t think you can get bad Zurek soup.  After dinner, Rich had to try the baked apple with blueberries.  I was too full to try any of it, but it did look good.

There was a band playing when we came in.  It sounded pretty traditional.  The four guys came out and sat near us to get their dinner.  They were dressed in traditional outfits.  Pretty soon, they were heading back inside to take up instruments and play music again.

During dinner, we watched people come and go.  All of the tables would be full and they would slowly empty out.  The next run would start for diners looking for tables.  I assume this is a popular place with the tourists and maybe with the locals as well.

We walked back to the hotel.  It had gotten chilly when the sun went down.  I thought I had read that it was 40s in the evenings.  It is in the mountains as well so the temp should be a little cooler.  We saw some stars as we walked back.  If it weren’t for the light pollution, it would be a gorgeous night.

ADDENDUM:  Rich wants everyone to know the true price of drinking beer in Zakopane.  It is 8 zloty for the piwo and 2 zloty for thr the toalety which equals 10 zloty per piwo.

 

View from the deck chairs
View from the deck chairs
Comm tower on the mountain, which we realized we see from our hotel.
Comm tower on the mountain, which we realized we see from our hotel.
Comm tower on the mountain, which we realized we see from our hotel.
Comm tower on the mountain, which we realized we see from our hotel.
People hanging out to enjoy the Tatra Mountains.
People hanging out to enjoy the Tatra Mountains.
Little hut says Bacowka, which is the restaurant in Schaumburg.
Little hut says Bacowka, which is the restaurant in Schaumburg.
Large outdoor grill where we tried to eat.
Large outdoor grill where we tried to eat.
Dining area for one of the little food shacks.
Dining area for one of the little food shacks.
Clouds hanging over the mountain tops.
Clouds hanging over the mountain tops.
Grill on the deck where we ate and where we could get beers.
Grill on the deck where we ate and where we could get beers.
Rich enjoying his beer and his view.
Rich enjoying his beer and his view.
Our lunch from the grill.
Our lunch from the grill.
Joy with her raspberry beer.
Joy with her raspberry beer.
View from our table on th deck.
View from our table on th deck.
Clouds hanging over the mountain tops.
Clouds hanging over the mountain tops.

 

European Vacation: Day 16 Welcome to Zakopane

I woke up to the sound of things being rattled.  Rich was already up and showered.  Somehow, I had slept through him getting up and taking his shower.  I must have been tired last night.  I drug myself out of bed and starting getting things together while he finished up in the bathroom.  Today, we leave Cracow for Zakopane.  This would be our last destination before we start for home.

We went down for breakfast and then came back up to pack up our stuff.  After 10 minutes before our pick-up time, we got our stuff downstairs.  We picked up our important papers and additional papers from the lockbox in the hotel safe.  Since it’s not a good idea to carry your passport, we put these into the hotel safe.  We also added our additional credit cards and Euros.

It wasn’t too long before our driver came in the door and announced he was looking for us.  We went out to the car and stowed the luggage.  Time to make the 2 hour drive south to Zakopane.  There wasn’t a lot of small talk as we watched the hills grow into mountains and the valleys with their picturesque villages getting fewer and fewer.

Once we got closer to Zakopane, the traffic began to grow.  By the time we were about 10 clicks outside of town, we were crawling forward.  Our driver said this was typical.  During holidays, it would be much worse.  We moved forward by feet and not very fast.

We got through the middle of town and started out the other side of town.  We went right by the hotel at first.  The driver was able to make a quick U turn in the bus stop area to get back around and into the driveway.  I’m looking at the quirkiest little place with eyebrow windows and lots of wrought iron.  It was adorable.

We got our luggage and said good-bye to the driver.  Unfortunately, neither Rich nor I got his name.  He said he might see us on Monday if he was the one assigned to pick us up.  That might be the case since he knew where he left us.  We went up the stairs to the reception area to sign in.

The lady who owned the hotel didn’t speak a lot of English.  She had enough to understand how to help us sign in and get us up to our room.  The room was amazing.  It was more of a suite with a living room and separate bedroom.  It was decorated in traditional Highland style with blond wood furnishings.  We were in a room that had one of the eyebrow windows on the front of the hotel.  There were small side windows as well.  This was going to be a great location.

We had a safe in the room, but it was locked and we couldn’t get it open.  I asked the lady if she could open it for us.  She came up with a key and unlocked the safe and reset it.  Then she left.  Rich played with the safe, but got it locked up without getting our stuff inside of it first.  Well, we’d have to ask her to come back up later to open it again.

We decided to walk down to Kupowki Street and see what the tourist side was like.  We walked up a ways before we found a promising restaurant for lunch.  I ordered traditional Highland soup and Rich had a traditional mushroom soup.  We got nalesniki and pierogi as well.  That should take care of us for the rest of the day.

We continued up the street looking at the shops and watching the people.  At the top of Kupowki, the row of hotels and shops continued on.  We turned back to head over to the local market side of the road.  We stopped in to a couple of restaurants to check out menus for dinner later on in the day.  One promising place was devoted to fish.  That would be different from the past couple of weeks.

We had to go downstairs to find the tunnel going under the roadway to get over to where the local market is and the tram going to the top of one mountain.  The local market is full of cheeses, leather goods, scarves, jewelry and other items made and sold by the locals.  It was very colorful over there.

We stopped into a couple of stands and watched people buying some of the different cheeses.  The smells were very nice.  We walked to the tram station and determined the timetable for getting a tram to the mountain top.  If the weather was good tomorrow, we might wait until Sunday to do the tram.  At least we knew what times the tram ran up the mountain.

As we walked back, I was leading us up and down the aisles.  I decided I wanted a scarf.  Then we decided to buy a scarf for Busia as well.  Rich picked out a beautiful blue scarf for Busia while I found a nice red and bright one for myself.  We purchased them from different vendors, so the prices were a bit different.  Neither of the ladies at the booths spoke English, but they spoke money.  They knew what it cost and they knew when I gave them the right amount.  I was happy with my purchases and I think they were happy to sell me something.

We wandered back down the aisles.  I wanted to look at the leather goods, but knew I didn’t really have a way to get anything home with me.  It was enough to look.  Rich wanted to try the cheese, but I couldn’t get him to stop.  Maybe tomorrow, he can stop and try some of it as we walk to the tram station.  It all looks so good.

Up the street, we had noticed an old wooden church.  I wanted to check it out.  Inside, it was all wood with even the decorations in wood.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Some people came in to prayer and we left.  I started to enter the cemetery behind the church, but a man wanted money for you to walk in.  I didn’t want to see it that badly.  According to Rich, I was supposed to put money into a box to go into the church also.  I didn’t see that.  Stupid tourist.

At lunch, I had been looking at the tour book I picked up at the hotel.  There was a Stanislaw Witkewiecz who had designed a home in Zakopane that came to define the style for the area.  Witkewiecz was his maternal grandfather’s last night.  Now I know how it was spelled in Polish and not Lithuanian.  We decided to stop by the house and have a look at the design.  It was on the way back to our hotel.

The house is pretty typical for what we are seeing as older homes in Zakopane.  They are wooden structures that appear more like cottages in shape.  Some of these have been rather large homes.  These are probably the summer homes for people who live in cities, like Cracow.

We walked back to the hotel to rest up.  We are still logging a lot of steps on Rich’s app.  The other day, we had roughly 15,000 steps.  Today, we probably don’t have that many since we spent two hours riding in a car to get down to Zakopane.  I’m sure we’ll make up for it tomorrow as we walk from place to place.

I got another blog updated and posted with pictures to the Zurekbrau site.  I’m running about even now.  If I can get this one posted, I’ll be all caught up again.  It was getting toward dinner time and Rich wanted to head down to look for a place to eat.  I recommended the place with all of the fish dishes.  He was alright with that.  So we got on our shoes and coats.  A chill had come on since we came in.  We layered it on a bit to protect ourselves on the walk.  We made it down the street without injury.  Sometimes, the cars here seem to go pretty fast and we have a couple of crosswalks to negotiate as we head toward the center of town.  That’s the Centrum in Polish.

We got into the restaurant just fine.  Downstairs was busy, so we went upstairs and found a table.  The waitress dropped off menus as she was making the rounds.  The menus were attached to children’s walking sticks.  Marcin says that most children in Poland have had one of these sticks at one time or another.

Rich wanted a beer being advertised on the table, but it wasn’t on the beer karte (list).  The waitress came by speaking Polish and I let her know we didn’t speak Polish.  She quickly changed gears and spoke in English.  Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t carry the beer Rich wanted.  We ordered a couple of Pilsner Urquels.  She came back for our food order and brought our beers.

Rich went with the trout with grilled potato and veggie.  I had the halibut with grilled potato and veggie.  The grilled potato turned out to be two baked potatoes each.  The fish was grilled in foil with butter and topped with the sauces we ordered.  It was all so wonderful.  Since we had no room for dessert, we convinced her to give us our bill.

We walked out to the street and stood for a minute.  There were still a lot of people walking around. Stores were still open as well.  This place isn’t like Cracow and some of the other places that closed up at 5:00.  We headed back to our hotel and collapsed on the couch.  It is good to be on vacation.

Right after I finish posting this and getting the pictures up on the blog, I’m going to bed.  Good night to all.

Courtyard from our window in Cracow.
Courtyard from our window in Cracow.

Our hotel in Zakopane

Living room in our hotel room in Zakopane
Living room in our hotel room in Zakopane
View from our hotel to the mountains above Zakopane.
View from our hotel to the mountains above Zakopane.
Couple of hotels on our street in Zakopane.
Couple of hotels on our street in Zakopane.
Rich having lunch in Zakopane.
Rich having lunch in Zakopane.
Local market where you buy the good stuff in Zakopane.
Local market where you buy the good stuff in Zakopane.
St Mary's Church in Zakopane
St Mary’s Church in Zakopane
Witkewiecz house in Zakopane
Witkewiecz house in Zakopane
Sign for Stanislaw Witkewiecz
Sign for Stanislaw Witkewiecz
Some of the older style homes in Zakopane.
Some of the older style homes in Zakopane.