Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mega Rally Final Tours and Events

We were so busy during this rally that I didn’t have time to do a daily blog. So, here are pics and stories from the final events of the last 3 days of the rally. My apologies for the length of this blog. I really tried to make it shorter, but if you get bored, just skip to the end.

Tuesday was a local day, with games, tour reviews and craft classes. We took advantage of the time to catch up on our laundry. Without a sewer connection, I couldn’t keep up with washing clothes, sheets, towels, etc. in my on-board laundry. That evening was fun with a version of the Newlywed Game conducted by Ron and Kay Rivoli. Don and Ron enjoyed a chat about their respective Spanish (Don) and Italian (Ron) last names before the game began.

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This couple got into the spirit of the game by dressing the part. Her flower and veil were made of toilet paper.

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On Wednesday we took our last bus tour. First stop was in the French Quarter of New Orleans for a walking tour. Don had a little trouble keeping with the fast pace set by Roland (the guide) at first, then he stumbled into a broken sidewalk and his (formerly shattered) left heel started to really hurt. One of the Adventure Caravans staff members offered to call a taxi to take Don back to the bus to wait for the tour to finish, but Roland handled the situation even better. He got Don to walk with him and help set a slower pace. And Betty Lenneman insisted that Don use her nice hand-carved walking cane. Soon Don was walking almost as fast as Roland had first started out and we all enjoyed the tour.

Here are some of my favorite scenes in the French Quarter, where I never get tired of visiting.

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Preservation Hall, established in 1961 to honor traditional New Orleans jazz music.

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K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, the first restaurant of Chef Paul Prudhomme and his late wife K, was opened in 1979. I dined there once in the late 1980’s, when they didn’t take reservations and we had to wait in line along the sidewalk to get in. It took a long time to get a table, but it was worth it!

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Since the French Quarter was built on swamp land, all the buildings were tied together for greater stability with long iron rods, visible as rectangles and circles on the outside of this wall.

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The great New Orleans fire that destroyed most of the French Quarter on Good Friday in 1788 began in this building at 619 Chartres St. The homeowner was burning candles for religious reasons when the wind blew curtains into the flame. The owner tried to put it out but it spread too quickly. He ran less than a block to the St. Louis Cathedral and begged the priest to ring the church bells to call for help. The priest refused, since it was Good Friday when the bells cannot be rung, and they had been tied to keep them from ringing accidentally. Since there was no fire department, the fire went rampant and burned 856 of the 1100 buildings in the area. Today, you can buy T-shirts and voodoo dolls there.

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Here’s St. Louis Cathedral in the next block, facing Jackson Square.

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Inside the Basilica, open to the public.

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Musicians play for tips in Jackson Square.

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Andrew Jackson’s statue is prominent in Jackson Square. The horse’s two front legs off the ground signify that this war hero went on to greater glory; he was elected U.S. President.

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The Faulkner House Bookstore on Pirate’s Alley was William Faulkner’s home in the 1920’s when he first began writing. The link above will take you to an interesting article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about the history of the house.

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Besides the buildings being tied together, balconies frequently joined each other or were very close together. Roland told us that young men would frequently visit ladies on the upper floors of the buildings, and when a husband would come home the young man would escape by jumping from one balcony to another, or by shimmying down one of the poles. That’s what inspired the husbands to add spikes like these to poles, and they became part of the d├ęcor.

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Here are some interesting pieces of art in a gallery window. How many images can you see?

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There were many more stories and a lot more beautiful examples of French Quarter architecture to view, but I must get on to the rest of the tour. We shared a Muffuletta (a large, round sandwich on sesame bread, filled with various meats and olive salad) for lunch, and enjoyed conversation with Fred and Marie Berger, who had PoBoy sandwiches. A jazz ensemble played for tips at this indoor-outdoor restaurant.

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Our next stop was the National World War II Museum. We saw a movie “Beyond All Boundaries” in unique 4-D with objects rising from the stage and being lowered from the ceiling in front of a huge, curved screen, and sound accented by the entire floor under our seats vibrating, making us feel as if we were part of the war scene. We learned a lot and highly recommend a visit to this museum.

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The next stop was at Mardi Gras World. Floats for the Mardi Gras parade are built here, and we learned all about the process and detailed work involved. Some of our group had fun trying on hats in the gift shop.

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Don and I could barely stretch to put our faces on these figures. I definitely could have used a step stool! I’ve always wanted to be taller, and oh, to have a body like that!

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The huge warehouse holds figures used in previous parades, as well as large blocks of Styrofoam for making new ones.

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Finally, it was time to visit the New Orleans School of Cooking for a demonstration by Chef Harriet Robin (pronounced Ro-Ban).

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We were served a bowl of gumbo, followed by crawfish etoufee along with Abita Amber beer. Desert was pecan pie and a praline. Chef Harriet taught us how to make a roux and gave tips on every part of the dinner that she made while we enjoyed eating it. We could see in an overhead mirror a birds-eye view of her cooking area.

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She was happy to answer individual questions from participants.

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From the beautiful 4th-floor dining room, we enjoyed views of the Mississippi River, the French Quarter, and the greater New Orleans area.

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Our bus ride back to Houma was smooth and uneventful. There were no problems with any of the 3 buses – Hurrah!

The final day of the rally was full of social gatherings, more games and crafts, and a final dinner party with a roasted pig.

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Ron & Kay Rivoli once again entertained us, this time with music from the 1930s to 1980s.

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Those attending who had been married 50 years or more were honored. Here are two couples who sat near us and were recognized.

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As we enjoyed breakfast the next morning and said goodbye to our new (and a few former) friends, we decided to sign up for the Gaspe and Atlantic Provinces tour July 13-September 6, 2014. We thoroughly enjoyed being pampered and treated to wonderful tours, food and activities for 11 days in Louisiana, so we’ll do it for 56 days next year! The only difference is that we’ll be driving our motorhome 3,971 miles during that time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More Adventures, More Bus Problems

Yesterday’s bus tour began at Donner-Peltier Distillers. It’s a new company that makes vodka from rice and rum from sugarcane. We split into 2 groups, one to taste first and the other to tour first. Don and I were in the tasting group. Mind you, this is at 9:00 a.m. Most of us had to admit that we weren’t accustomed to sipping vodka and rum, straight, especially first thing in the morning!

The best taste for me was the praline flavored rum, but it’s not yet in production so I couldn’t buy any.

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The tour was led by the Master Distiller, who moved here from Oregon. It was interesting to learn the process and to see how spotless the operation is.

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The next stop was the Bayou Terrebonne Waterlife Museum. The displays, videos and murals were very well done, especially the life-size models of water creatures.

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This alligator didn’t fit within the range of my camera.

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And several items in the gift shop were interesting, but none of them made it home with us.

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Our third stop was at Terrebonne ARC, a center for the developmentally disabled. Several businesses and services are in operation on land donated to the center when a military base was closed several years ago. One area is used for egg production, with a comment that the chickens have it better than some people for the comfortable house they live in.

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Mardi Gras beads and other festive items are created.

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There’s a candy shop and a bakery.

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And, of course, a gift shop where you can buy many of these goods. I got a jar of salsa.

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What a full morning! Next we went to the Southdown Plantation House for lunch in the outdoor pavilion. The morning’s heavy fog had turned into a heavy mist, which made even the floor under cover of the pavilion’s roof totally wet.

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After eating, some of us wandered through the mansion.

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If you look carefully at the second chimney from the left, you’ll see it’s smaller than the others. That’s because it was hit by lightning in the recent storm that blew through this area, and evidence of broken bricks could be seen on the lawn and inside on the second floor.

I didn’t see the sign banning photography inside until after I had taken this shot. But I didn’t use flash, so I didn’t cause any harm.

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The rest of the house was equally lovely, and I enjoyed seeing it.

While this may seem like a full day, we still had two more stops to make!

The next was Cajun Man’s Swamp Tour. Captain Ron Guidry took us on a boat tour of the nearby bayous and swamps.

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We only saw a few alligators, partly because of the misty/rainy weather, and most of them were small like this cute little guy.

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Here’s a larger ‘gator, probably about 5-6 ft. If you can estimate the number of inches between the tip of the nose to the eyes, each inch is roughly equivalent to a foot of body length.

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We saw several snowy egrets and at least one blue heron.

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And a few snapping turtles.

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Ron is an interesting guy and entertained us with his homemade accordion and later his beautiful Martin guitar.

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Sorry, no pics of the guitar, but here’s his nice ‘gator strap.

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We saw lots of bald cypress trees, the state tree of Louisiana. Most were covered with Spanish moss, and many were accompanied by ‘knees’ like the ones below. The knees grow from the tree roots and help to stabilize the tree. Click here for more info on bald cypress trees and better pictures of knees.

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Our next stop (yes, one more to fill out the day) was at the Greenwood Gator Farm.

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We went into the gift shop before taking the tour to wait for another busload of our group to finish their tour. I was really tempted to buy this ‘gator playing the Zydeco washboard for our Arizona yard art collection. But Don didn’t think it had the western desert look we’re working toward. Shucks! He sure is cute!

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The cell phone holders in the glass case below (sorry for the reflection) were, from left, $50, $30, $80, $100, $100. Just imagine how much that guitar strap cost Capt. Ron! Well, maybe not so much. He probably knows somebody.

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On the tour, we learned about alligator nests like this one, but with a lot more eggs, up to 50 or more.

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Here’s what the nests look like in the swamp.

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With all the right permits and fees paid, they fight off/distract the mother ‘gator with a pole while gathering the eggs, making sure to keep them upright in the same position as found in the nest. What a delicate operation to conduct while fighting off an angry alligator!

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The month of September is open season for alligator hunting. With the proper tags and equipment, hunters can catch the really big ones. Some are longer than 13 feet.

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I won’t post or write any details about the processing of the meat, because, frankly, I couldn’t stomach it. But the meat is such a delicacy, only the best restaurants serve it. Last year’s entire catch, processed at this location, went to a restaurant in Boston. No local restaurants got even a morsel. I can’t even imagine how much that alligator meat cost. Here’s part of last year’s catch.

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Whew! What a day. Now for the bus problem. It was finally our turn. We were so happy with our bus, a modern one with a door that opens flat against the side of the bus, plus a driver Mike who can somehow make that 45-footer weave through narrow streets that I’m not sure I could get our 40-footer through. But it seems that the alternator failed and therefore there was no power to start the engine. So we had to cut our tour short and get on another bus to go back to our RV park so that bus could return to pick up its regular passengers. Not a big problem, and I hope none of us have any more bus boo-boo’s!

Sorry for the long blog, but it was a long day. Today, we had a few activities locally, but Don and I did our laundry and took care of mundane things. Evening entertainment was so-so, so I was able to come home and finish this blog entry! Early to bed because – guess what? We’re going on another bus ride tomorrow!