Cajun Vacation: Home Sweet Home March 11

The rain continued to come day on Friday morning.  The plan was to pack up and drive all day until we reached home.  Vacation was just about over for us.  This was our last day on the road.

After showers and packing up, we went down to load up the car one last time.  Pulling out of the garage, we got out onto the streets of Memphis.  I headed south before I realized that I really wanted to go north to get across the bridge to West Memphis.  The navi saved us and got us out to the expressway without going too much out of the way.  Thanks, Navi.

Traffic was a little heavy.  The rain was light so it wasn’t causing things to slow down much.  The road curved to the west and led us over the river.  A white Ford Escape in the left lane was driving well under the speed limit.  The driver was talking on the phone.  I bet he had no idea he was causing a traffic jam as everyone was trying to get around him.

We stopped in the West Memphis service plaza to grab breakfast.  My thinking was that we ate well here and make it down the road a good ways before we need to stop for a meal.  The restaurant we picked had a breakfast buffet with just about everything you could want.  Sylvia, our waitress, got Rich a couple of eggs over easy.  She also brought a full coffee pot to the table.  We could fill our cups as we liked.  After eating, I filled the travel mug from the pot.  This was convenient.

Rick and I went through the shop to look around while waiting for Rich to make a stop.  Halfway through my round, I realized I had forgotten the travel mug on the table.  I hurried back to the restaurant just as Sylvia came out looking for me.  I thanked her profusely since Rich would have been unhappy not to have coffee for the trip back.

Back in the car, we headed into Arkansas with the rest of the northbound traffic.  It was pretty much uneventful.  The flood waters stopped a few miles north of Memphis.  I pulled into the Missouri Welcome Center after driving for a couple of hours.  It was time for Rich to take over.  I took a nap.  With my sinus unhappy from the wind and dust in New Orleans, I needed to rest.

About 2:00 PM, Rich decided the car needed gas and he was empty as well.  I’m not even sure where we were.  We found a gas station and a Hardee’s next door.  As we waited for our food, a group of guys were finishing up and I heard one of them say, “I haven’t seen a Hardee’s around in a while.”  The manager asked where he was from.  The guys answered, “Illinois.”  I swear that he pronounced all of the letters in the name.  Do people from the state actually say it that way?  I know Southerners tend to say it that way.  I thought it was very funny.

We got back on the road and headed toward home again.  Somewhere around Champaign, we pulled into a rest area to take a break.  In the rest room, a group of 10 to 12 year old girls huddled in front of the door and hand dryers.  What do you call a group of girls like that?  I was thinking a gaggle.  I’m sure there is a good name that fits.  When I looked it up, the closest was a bevy of ladies.  Naw, that doesn’t work.

Rick took the wheel and got us a little further up the road.  I got to sit in the back seat and read.  I always love when I can read from here.  I snuggled in and got comfy.  Before I knew it, it was a couple of hours later and Rick was pulling into the last rest area before hitting the Chicago area.  As he was pulling, three buses were pulling into the truck lanes.  One bus was pulling into the car parking.  We parked ourselves and made a break for the bathrooms to beat the worst of the crowd.  I made to be third in line, even though I can’t run.

Getting back out of the bathroom proved to be more of a challenge than getting in.  I had to wind my way through girls standing in the hallway to get to the sink.  At the door, I had to almost shout excuse me at the top of lungs to get out again.  The girls in line wouldn’t part ways to get through.  Did they really think I was trying to cut line to go again?  There were kids standing everywhere in the rest area lobby.  Why were they all standing around in here?  It’s nice outside.  Go out there and walk around!

In the car, it was my turn to drive us to the house.  Traffic was tight and rush hour was going to make it tighter.  A fender bender on the eastbound side of I-80 was causing traffic to be slow on the westbound.  I’m always amazed that rubbernecking causes so much trouble.  There was no blood.  Once past the accident, the traffic picked up and moved down the road.

It was getting pretty dark by the time we got into the Schaumburg area.  Rich was planning to stop for chicken in Palatine.  I really had a taste for hot and sour soup.  Since I was getting this anyway, it was decided to come on in to home and get food from there.  We arrived home about 7:00.  Yes, we had made it.  The guys picked out food while I started to unpack the car.  The order was called in and everything was brought into the living room.  There was time to get everything into its own place later.

The guys went after the food while I settled into my chair and took a lot of deep breaths.  Home always feels so good.  One more Zurek Family Vacation in the books and ready to be written about in a blog.

Cajun Vacation: Walking in Memphis

Today, we are on the move again.  We woke up to dry skies, but the clouds were very low.  It’s probably good we are leaving NOLA today.  We start our first leg back to the real world and home.  After packing up, Rich went down to the lobby for coffee so that he would be prepared for the drive.  We would stop and grab something to eat on the way out of NOLA.

I called down to get our car brought around by the valet and to have someone bring up a cart to help us get all of this stuff downstairs.  I thought it would be easier to tip someone.  I am on vacation, you know.  The young man knocked on the door and even had his own doorstop.  That’s good planning.  We got everything to the door and he loaded it up for us.

Rich had not returned, so Rick and I headed to the lobby to try and catch him.  No luck though, because we missed him somewhere.  Rick sent a text to join us in the lobby.  A couple of minutes later, Rich appeared with phone and coffee in hands.  He said he got to the room and saw the guy taking the cart to the service elevator.  He figured we were already downstairs.

I thanked the ladies at the front desk for helping us around the French Quarter during our stay.  They had the best information and always willing to help me figure out how to do something.  The Courtyard was the best place.  We had a wonderful stay with them.

Down in the garage, our car was ready and waiting.  The valet was giving me instructions for getting out of town and back on the road toward Memphis.  Our luggage showed up and I packed the car with my usual expertise.  Time to wave good-bye and creep out into rush hour traffic in New Orleans.

We got lucky and traffic was clear.  We headed west on Dauphine St and followed the Navi to I-55 going west.  We had gotten on the other side of Lake Ponchetrain when the first rain drops started hitting the car.  It was only sprinkles at this point.  So we made it out of town before it got wet.  Now that was great planning.

We stopped up the road for gas and something to eat.  That would take us into Clarksdale.  The rain got a little heavier as we were getting around the Tennessee border.  Then it really broke loose as we got off the interstate and onto the minor highway.  There were times when it was a little hard to see.  In some places, we hydroplaned somewhat where water just couldn’t run off.

As we moved north, the evidence of flooding was getting more and more.  In several locations, the fields looked like good sized lakes just standing with water.  A couple of places had water running from one field across the road to another field.  It was a single lane of traffic at these points.  Luckily, it wasn’t trying to sweep any vehicles with it.

We got into Clarksdale at the crossroads.  The viaduct on 61 was closed because of high water.  We snaked our way through the neighborhoods.  At one point, the train was blocking the tracks because it was stopped for water.  We got around it all and back over to 61.  Across the Sunflower River, we found that Hick’s BBQ was still open.

We had just an hour before they closed for the day.  We ordered half a dozen tamales, rib tips, BBQ pork sandwiches with fried okra and baked beans.  Rich and I had been trying for a couple of years to catch Hick’s open so we could eat the best tamales in the world.  The guy behind the counter laughed when I said that.  However, it is true.  These were some of the best hot tamales that I’ve had.  We’ll have to stop by and try them again.

We got back to the crossroads and headed north for Memphis.  I tried to stop for gas outside of Clarksdale, but apparently the pumps and computer system was down.  With the storms and rain, it appears that things have been down off and on all day.  I opted to get gas further up in the delta.

We’d be spending the night in Memphis and hopefully get to see some blues at Run Boogie Blues Hall.  Rick can check out the act on stage next door at Rum Boogie, if he wanted.  I knew Rick also wanted to go by the Gibson Factory.  He wasn’t interested in the tour so much as the guitars on display and the fact that you could play them.  I think we had a full day for our one night there.

We got within 10 miles of Memphis when a sign said the road was closed.  Apparently, the high water here had the road closed to traffic.  We got on an east-west highway to get around the block.  This took us out of our way by some miles, but it was better than nothing.  This road took us back over to I-55 so we could head up to Memphis.  The road was drier here, but there were still some places with standing water.

The exit off to the interstate ran down into some of the industrial areas.  At one point, we were detoured again because of high water.  This wound us around through some of the older neighborhoods and right by Gus’ World Famous Chicken.  We turned on Union and right down to the hotel.  We were across from The Peabody.  I tell myself I’m going to stay over there someday, but today was not that day.

We got checked and ready to walk to Beale St.  Somehow, Rick talked his Dad into going over to Lansky’s first.  When I caught up to them, they were standing by waiting for the famous Peabody ducks to go up to their penthouse for the night.  I pulled them along to the Lansky store to shop instead.

Once inside the shop, the colors and textures are wonderful.  I find it hard not to run around and touch everything.  Rich started looking through shirts and hats.  Nothing was standing out for him.  Rick saw shirts he liked, but he figured he would never really wear.  One of the salesmen asked about our day.  I explained we had stopped by to look.  Rich then found the perfect shirt.  It was a black camp shirt with guitar picks and a fret board on the front.  On the back was a full guitar and the words, “Home of Rock and Roll” in bright colors.  It was beautiful and it was in Rich’s size.  Out came the credit card and Rich purchased it.

I ran the shirt back over to the hotel while the guys walked down to the Gibson Factory.  By the time I came back down to the street, it was starting to rain.  I had left my rain jacket upstairs guessing that the rain was over for the night.  If you have to decide something, I figured I’d go for warm.  Darn, I got that wrong.

I didn’t see the guys when I got to Gibson.  Inside the door, I looked around.  A young lady who worked there asked if she could help.  I explained I let my kids come down where and I couldn’t find them.  Rick walked from behind one of the racks about then.  I told her I found one of them.  She laughed.  Rick sat down and started to play a Les Paul that he had admired.  Price tags here are to be admired, but not paid either.  Rich sat down on a couch and waited as Rick and I walked around and around the guitars.  It is an impressive place with lots of guitars just hanging around.  After buying a new guitar strap that says Gibson, Rick was ready for me to drag him out of the store.

We walked back down to Beale Street, but no one was playing any live music yet.  That would be around 8:00.  We checked on the schedule for a couple of places and getting the names of groups who would be playing.  We walked down toward the Handy Park to check out some places.  Across the street, Dyer’s was open.  Rick decided he was hungry again.  We went in for burgers and beers.

Back out on the street, we wondered up Beale Street toward B.B. King’s place and then around the block back to the hotel for a rest.  The rain had pretty much quit and it was getting a little bit chilly.  We’d rest our feet and then head back down to Beale for the 8:00 shows.

Live music started up at 8:00 PM on Beale Street.  We left the hotel just after the guitars started.  The rain was coming down slow and steady.  The five minute walk up to Beale Street didn’t soak us through.  We got to the door for the Blues Hall Juke Joint with the music coming through the door.  The doorman checked our IDs and stamped our hands.  Luckily, the bar is free to enter.  We stepped inside and the music surrounded us.

We took over one of the high-topped tables and shucked the raincoats.  Rich stepped up to the bar and got us three bourbon high balls.  Well, they were actually Canadian whiskey high balls since that’s all they had.  The Blues Masters were on stage.  I wouldn’t say they were exactly blues.  They were playing mostly R&B and Soul.  They weren’t bad though.  We heard three or four songs.

The crowd was ebbing and flowing around us.  People would move between the Juke Joint and Rum Boogie Café through the adjoining door.  A large group of guys and girls came in at one point and tried to find seating together.  They ended up at a table behind us and a table right up front.  They didn’t stay too long before they picked up their Big Ass Beers and moved back out to the street.  I assume they were looking for a specific type of music and hadn’t found it yet.

The band brought up their singer after the first few songs.  Her name was Queen Anne.  To my ears, it sounds strange to name your child with a title as their name.  She had a nice voice.  Unfortunately, the lead guitarist was also the sound guy.  To hear Queen Anne over the band, he cranked her mic up over the other sounds.  This meant the sound now made your ears bleed.

We hung out for a couple of songs and finished our drinks.  It was time to go while we could still hear.  I would prefer to hear more music.  I asked the guys to walk through Rum Boogie Café in hopes that the band there was still on stage.  I wasn’t having any luck though.  No one was on stage and the lights were dark.

On the street, we could hear music blaring from several locations all at once.  The rain was coming down harder.  Maybe it was time to call it quits for the night.  We were planning to be on the road early tomorrow.  It would be a long day as we planned to drive on home for the 8 and more hours.

The street was dark with the rain coming down.  In a couple of spots, we had to skirt puddles to keep our feet dry.  We debated crossing the street at Peabody Place against the light because there was no traffic coming down the one-way street.  At the last minute, the pedestrian light changed in our favor.

We joked about melting before we could get back to the hotel.  Good thing none of us were that sweet.  As we passed the Peabody Hotel, Rick told me we’d be home now if I had just made reservations there.  I told him I would have, if he were paying.  We crossed the street and entered our warm and dry hotel.

The night in Memphis didn’t work out as well as I had planned, but we did manage to do a couple of things we wanted.  Rick got to play guitars at Gibson.  Rich shopped at Lansky’s.  We got to see the Peabody ducks walk to the elevator.  The live music was short, but enough to remember.

Beale Street in the rain
Beale Street in the rain
Gibson Factory
Gibson Factory
Rick with one of his favorite guitars
Rick with one of his favorite guitars
Love is a new guitar
Love is a new guitar
Little dobro with that song
Little dobro with that song
Peabody Hotel on a dark and rainy night
Peabody Hotel on a dark and rainy night

 

Cajun Vacation: Day 5 Happy Birthday, Rick!

Happy Birthday, Rick.  Today is my son’s 22nd birthday.  On this day 22 years ago, he woke me up from a sound sleep to take care of some important business.  He arrived about 4 weeks early and has been dragging his heels about things ever since.

We weren’t in any hurry today either.  I didn’t have that much planned.  I did want to do a trip to Cemetery #1, but it turned out to be $25 a person.  It wasn’t that important to me.  We saw the cemetery on the way in.  So the first plan was to find breakfast.  Checking the lobby meant something expensive and maybe not that good.  We headed to the street to find a restaurant.

Can you believe that not that many places serve breakfast in the French Quarter?  I made the executive decision to go to a little place that sounded interesting.  Unfortunately, it had been replaced with a Vietnamese restaurant that wasn’t open.  We backtracked a bit to Café Beignet and got coffee for Rich.  He’s not really human until that first cup goes in.  We found a table on the patio and got gospel songs from a homeless man.  He was very good and sang “Amazing Grace,” which is one of my favorites.

Rich had a sparrow take an untimely accident on him.  It wasn’t too bad and he could clean himself up.  From here, I got money and we headed down to the river.  I wanted to check out Jackson Brewery for lunch before going over to the French Market.  I talked to the bartender for a bit and we decided to come back there.

Down the shore a bit, we entered into the French Market.  The first half was a market for foods and food stands.  The smells were wonderful.  We stopped to try some pralines.  Rich got rum, Rick got peanut butter, and I got original.  They were delicious.  We should have had breakfast here!

Further down, the flea market took over.  Most of this was handicraft items being sold by individuals.  I looked at the jewelry, but it was really good quality.  I decided I could make any of that.  There were leather goods and wood carvings.  A few people had artwork or photographs that were interesting.

I circled back around to find the guys had gotten water and Rich a second cup of coffee.  Since the coffee was still hot, we moved to the park to watch the people and talk.  People watching can be quite fulfilling here in the Big Easy.  There are so many different things going on at the same time.

We headed down to Jackson Brewery for lunch.  Inside, we had choices to make.  I would stay downstairs at the main bar, but Rich decided to sit upstairs and have a view of the Mississippi River.  Rick decided not to drink quite yet.  Rich had a pomegranate beer while I had the Canebrake IPA.  I ordered the shrimp and grits.  Rich got the alligator jambalaya and Rick got the Chignon du latté (milk pork) po’boy.  The food was so wonderful.  We ate and watched the world go by outside and basketball for the ACC play inside.

After lunch, I was trying to find a t-shirt for New Orleans, but not having any luck.  The guys found theirs earlier this morning.  We headed up St. Peter St to Bourbon St.  First stop here was to the Tropical Island to try a Hand Grenade.  Louie from work said that we had to do it.  OK, we were game.  A couple at the bar acted like they had already had several.  They were excited to have someone come in and order.  The taste is fruity, but with a bitter after flavor that was almost like an artificial sweetener.  It wasn’t that great.  However, it was pretty potent.  Rick managed to lob the grenades from our drinks into the overhead basket.

While sitting at the bar, a couple of people came in and ordered shark attacks.  The bartenders would sound the siren and ring the bells.  A drink was set on the bar and a plastic shark was put into turning the drink completely red.  It was a nice gimmick, but not one that I would try to drink for.  As it was, I couldn’t finish the drink I had.  We slipped out and I deposited my cup in the trash.  The guys kept their souvenir glasses and headed back to the hotel.  We tried it, Louie.

I was still on the hunt for a t-shirt.  I had seen a large shop on Bourbon St that I wanted to check out.  The guys left me to shop and headed to the hotel.  I walked around the shop, but nothing looked like what I wanted.  If anything came close, it was not in my size.  I might have to go home without a shirt to commemorate my visit.

At the hotel, I got on the elevator with a family of 5 from Texas.  I know they were from Texas because the Mom, Dad, and the eldest son said it about 5 times between the two floors.  I made my way through the sprawling hallways back to the room.  It’s funny.  The hotel seems to be built between three different buildings, which requires you to make random turns to get way to our room.  It’s nice because it is us and one other room back here.  Now that I know the way, it’s not too hard anymore.  Learning the intricate turns was a little difficult at first.

Rich is napping.  Rick is messing around some online game stuff.  I’m writing up today’s blog.  All of this is while we rest before taking off again.  We are headed to Lafayette Square for Wednesdays on the Square.  Tab Benoit and the N’Wahing Johnnies are playing.  There are supposed to be food booths to buy all different kinds of foods.  I’m hoping there are different kind of drinks as well.  We thought we’d listen to some New Orleans blues and enjoy some time in the park.  I’ll let you know how that went when we return.

So sad.  We got our chairs and walked down to the park.  There was no concert about to start.  There were no food trucks parked waiting for people to order up food and drink.  We talked to a couple of people sitting around the fountain there.  Apparently, they came in and tried to set up.  The wind was pretty strong so they packed it up again and sent everyone home.  No concert tonight.  Darn.  So we packed our chairs back to the hotel.

After resting our feet for a bit, we went out to look for food and music.  We already figured out that the best places to be were not on Bourbon St.  Heading down Dauphine St., the first place was a martini bar that didn’t really have much food.  So we had one drink and moved on.  Rick did try a Stinger and really liked it.  The band was OK.  I didn’t care for the singer’s style, but the sound was OK.  We left and headed down Iberville to a small bar the guys thought was pretty cool last night.  The music didn’t start until 8:00.

In the meantime, we needed food before we could really carry on.  Between them, the guys decided to try the Vietnamese restaurant from this morning’s adventure.  It sounded good to me.  Rich got Pho while Rick and I got different rice dishes.  It was all pretty darn good.  The place was really small and was filling up around us.  We got enough food to be able to enjoy the evening and it was tasty.

We headed down to Decatur St. to see what was happening at Big Mama’s Blues Lounge.  It was comedy night and not what we were looking for.  We moved on to the jazz bar down the street.  Unfortunately, the first act had finished up and the next group didn’t even show up.  That’s OK because there was some pretty good blues music playing, the night was warm, and the bar was all opened up.  It was a great night to be out and about in New Orleans.

Around 8:00, we picked up and moved on to Iberville and the 21st Amendment Bar.  This place was tiny.  There were three or four tables and the bar itself.  The menu was mostly whiskey drinks, but there were some interesting mixes.  I saw the Day of Death Chocolate Stout and that was my drink.  Rich got the Bull in a China Shop and Rick did the peach shandy, which was surprisingly good.  Shine Diehl was playing with a group of string musicians.  It was kind of folk, Jazz, and ragtime with maybe a hint of old Jewish sound.  It was different.  Shine had this kind of donkey braying sort of laugh that he did after every song.  All in all, it was pretty good though.

We finished up our drinks and the band took a break.  Time for us to make a break for it also.  We were all tired from walking around town.  Believe it or not, we walked somewhere in the neighborhood of 18,000 steps for the day.  So for all the eating and drinking, we also walked it off.  Not a bad vacation.

Tomorrow is supposed to rain here and it has been raining cats and dogs in Memphis.  Not sure what we will find when we head normal tomorrow.  Hopefully, we can get into Memphis and back out again on Friday.  I’d really like to hear more music and get to see a bit of the Beale Street areas.  Wish us luck.

Rick the birthday boy
Rick the birthday boy
Rich with his morning coffee
Rich with his morning coffee
Going into the French Market
Going into the French Market
Rich contemplating getting something from a food vendor
Rich contemplating getting something from a food vendor
Jackson Brewery up on the levee
Jackson Brewery up on the levee
Eating lunch with a view of the Mississippi River
Eating lunch with a view of the Mississippi River
Alligator jambalaya with frog legs
Alligator jambalaya with frog legs

Chignon au Lait po'boy

Shrimp and grits at Jackson Brewery
Shrimp and grits at Jackson Brewery
Windy Day on the Mississippi River
Windy Day on the Mississippi River
Walking down St. Peter Street toward Bourbon St.
Walking down St. Peter Street toward Bourbon St.
Antoine's is oldest restaurant in NOLA
Antoine’s is oldest restaurant in NOLA
Musicians playing in the street
Musicians playing in the street
Museum of Death by our hotel
Museum of Death by our hotel
Jazz band pouring out of hotel with group doing their own parade
Jazz band pouring out of hotel with group doing their own parade
Mascot leading the parade
Mascot leading the parade

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

Cajun Vacation: Day 1 and Day 2 Drive, Drive, Drive

Vacation came early this year.  Rick had his spring break start on March 4.  I decided that March might be a great time to go and check out Louisiana.  As long as I was paying, Rick was up for joining us.  Sure, why not.  Besides, his 22nd birthday would be during that week.  It’ll be like old times again.

Rich had his first distiller’s conference from March 1 through 3 for his new employer, Whiskey Resources.  Not exactly the best planning, but he could use the week to rest and recover.  Vacation planning went into full on mode in December and all reservations were made by January.

Rick arrived home on March 4.  He had finished up midterms the day before.  He managed to sneak in the door without my notice.  Sascha was right on it though.  Poor baby, she hobbled to the door so fast to greet him.  I ran to join her.  My babies were both at home.

As a side note, Sascha started to hobble on Tuesday pretty bad.  I was thinking she had bruised her paw somehow on the ice and snow.  By Wednesday, it wasn’t any better.  Being the worried mom I am, I took her off to the vet that afternoon.  After a big hit to my wallet with x-rays, visit, and meds, the diagnosis was a broken toe.  Yep, she had cracked it lengthwise down the second metacarpal.  No wonder it hurt so badly.  On the x-ray, it was pretty swollen.  The vet insisted on bed rest.  I told him that was next to impossible.  At least, she was going to the kennel for vacation and would be limited to what she could do.

Rich came in on Friday afternoon.  He was still pretty excited from the conference.  He had met so many people, tried so many distilled liquors, and had so much free stuff.  He also had the beginnings of a cold.  Darn!  This is no time to get sick.  He chattered away about his time with the distillers and I listened with lots of patience.  It was great to see him get so excited about this aspect of his new job.

We were all winding down that evening as we packed and got things ready for leaving on Saturday morning.  Rich still had to keg his Husky Paws beer before we could leave.  He got up and got moving without much prodding.  As he was moving the beer from fermenter to keg, Rick and I took Sascha to the kennel.  Everyone had to make over her paw.  As usual, she didn’t plan to stay, but could make a quick enough getaway.  We said good-bye and got in one last set of hugs.

Back at the house, Rich was finishing up.  Rick and I began to pack the car.  Wow, it was almost 11 o’clock by the time we were ready.  Breakfast was next.  I should say brunch, right?  We stopped into Island Café to get something good to hold us over until dinner that evening.  I had a plan.

It was almost noon by the time we got on the road.  Traffic was fair and we made good time out to the highway.  From there, speed was good and we were sailing along.  If you have driven in Chicago, you know it is mandatory 70 miles per hour out there.  I follow that run to keep from being run over.  Pretty soon, we were on 57 and heading south.

The trip was going well so far.  The temperature was hovering around 40, but I could blue skies up ahead of us.  Rich had checked his phone for weather and reported 65 in Cairo.  No way!  Warm weather was close at hand for us.  Just about Mount Vernon, we could see the line of clouds that outline the boundary between cold and warm.  Suddenly, sunshine was all around us.  The car was registering an amazing 55.  Vacation had truly begun.

I had been trying to visit a BBQ place in Southern Illinois for the longest time.  Today was the day we would stop and try it out.  The restaurant is called 17th Street BBQ.  The main restaurant is way off the highway, but they had a satellite open in Marion, which was right off the interstate.  We made it there about 5:00 and just ahead of a crowd.

We got seated and reviewed the menu.  Tracy, our waitress, made a suggestion to get Mike Championship Platter, which came with a little bit of everything they had.  We added several sides to that and were all set.  The food arrived.  Oh my gosh!  This was definitely some of the best BBQ I have tasted.  I do believe that Rich still makes the best, this ranked right up there.  We ate until we could eat no more.

It was back on the road.  We had a couple of more hours until we could stop for the night.  Blytheville, Arkansas was the destination.  This was the halfway point for our trip.  By 6:00 PM, it was getting pretty dark.  I saw deer hanging by the side of the road and worried that I was going to have to dodge one of these things in the dark.

Luck was with us.  We had no suicidal deer, traffic was quiet, and we managed to drive in the warm night to our resting place.  That evening, Rick and I hung out in the hot tub talking while Rich rested comfortably with his box of Kleenex.  Vacation is good.

The next morning, it was breakfast at Perkins and then out on the road.  We made a stop by Walgreen’s for more cold supplies.  Memphis was relatively quiet.  Sunday mornings must be a good time to circle the city.  We’ll be back on Thursday though.

We headed south and skirted the Delta for now.  The road took us down to Jackson, Mississippi.  We did manage to get Rick to pronounce it like the locals:  Missippi.  I was amazed to find that traffic was running pretty fast today.  I was pushing the upper limits of 75 to 77 while a lot of cars and trucks were blowing by us pretty quickly.  What is this the autobahn?

Rick took over and drove for a bit.  He was nervous, but probably with good cause.  He had to manage not to hit the group of black kids crossing the highway at one point.  Then there was the guy who was halfway up an exit ramp and slammed on the brakes so he could do a U turn and cross the grassy shoulder to get back on the highway just to try it again at the next exit.  Rick did manage to avoid all of this and get to the Louisiana Welcome Center in one piece.

From there, I drove to Lafayette.  That’s not without issues though.  We got to I-10 and the world went crazy around us.  Everyone started driving 90 miles an hour.  To keep from being injured, I felt obliged to join them.  I swear that the roadway automatically turned into the Daytona 500 and the vehicles all had decals of some sort on them.  I was actually keeping up in the race for a bit, but was getting left behind pretty quickly.  We raced on until just west of Baton Rouge when all of the participants seemed to melt away.  I didn’t realize that NASCAR was invented in Louisiana!

We got off the interstate and onto the main road leading into Lafayette.   Once again, it became a race track.  The speed limit was 40, but I swear everyone around was going 60 through town.  I was trying to keep up to prevent getting run over.  The turn for our hotel came and it led to a nice, calm street.  After several turns, we found the inviting lights of our hotel.

Inside, we talked to the clerk about the area.  He was quite humorous and had a lot of jokes to tell.  I asked for a recommendation on a restaurant.  Being Sunday, I figured most things would be closed and I was right.  He gave a coupon for Prejean’s, which I had looked at.  He assured us the Cajun food would be great.  We unpacked and headed out

This took us back out to the main road and the race was on again.  I even got passed by a sheriff’s car racing with someone else.  I guess it was just is the normal mode around here.  We made it up the road and off the expressway to Prejean’s.  Luckily, it wasn’t too busy.  The hostess tried to seat us directly in front of the Cajun band that was playing.  I asked to be seated at least one table back.  It was hard enough to hear and talk.

Scotty was our waiter.  He took our order without writing any of it down.  We had gator bites to start.  Rich got duck and andouille sausage gumbo while Rick had chicken and sausage gumbo.  It came with rice on the side and a nice yeast garlic roll.  I had the crab cakes with corn macque chow and rice pudding.  Rich got crawfish etouffee.  Rick ordered the seafood Alfred with crawfish, shrimp, crab, and some other seafood offerings.  I tasted it all just to be sure.  It was all so wonderful.  We had no room for dessert was the only regret.

Back out to the car and get gas in this out of the way location.  Then  it was back to the race track and a fast run down to Kaliste Saloom Rd.  Even the semis were trying to drive the route at 60.  It was impressive.  I wonder if it is better during the week.

Well, that’s the first couple of days of vacation.  Tomorrow, we are touring the Tabasco Factory at Avery Island.  From there, we plan to see a plantation, if I can find one that is open on Mondays.  The Acadian Village is closed so there went that plan.  Still, there is good food to be had out here and we plan to find some more.  Where is that crawfish boil?