Friday, May 27, 2016

Great Friends and Fun

We met Charles and Sandy three years ago when they came to Betty's RV Park for three days and stayed three weeks.  They fell in love with Betty and all the friends they made there and several couples have accepted there generous offer to come to Lewisburg for a visit.  This is our second visit and they are such fantastic and generous hosts, providing a spot to hook ups for the RV and acting as tour guides.
We drove from Memphis and arrived at 1:00 PM.  After setting up they took us to lunch.  They had tickets for a STYX concert that evening at the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville and they insisted we join them along with Grover and Mackenzie for the show.  A slight change in plans and we were showered and on the road at four.
After dinner and before the concert we went to the roof at Acme, a crazy Nashville bar.  Mackenzie, Nanc and Sandy priming for the show.........
while Charles, Jim and Grover swapped lies.  Hanging out with young people, we used Uber for the first time and both Charles and I were surprised that you don't need money for the ride. Thanks Grover.   We met Grover and Mackenzie when we were here three years ago before they were married and then again this spring at Betty's.
The venue is a very nice amphitheater on the river right in downtown Nashville.  Performing with STYX was the Nashville Symphony.  In addition to their greatest hits they also did songs by David Bowie, the Beatles and others.  It was a great concert at a great venue.  Nashville sure is a happening place.
The next day we went to Arrington Vineyards for an afternoon of music, snacks and wine.  This is a neat place that has concerts most weekends and picnicking is encouraged.
Grover, Mackenzie, Sandy, Charles, Nanc and Jim at Arrington Vineyards.
Day three started at Honey's, home of the famous slawburger, a hamburger with slaw on it.  I don't know if there is another place in the country where you can get any burger for $1.79.
Next stop was Prichard's Distillery, a small, family operation that makes several kinds of liquor in an old school.  Can't think of a better use for an old school.
The whole process is done in the old classrooms.  Top: First they cook and distill the grain, then they use the small still (center) to infuse fruit flavors into the liquor, then the barrels are stored outside.  Bottom:  The bottles are labeled by hand one at a time and then sent through the bottling operation.  They were happy that they just started using a new bottling machine that fills four at a time.  The finished product is then sent to the gym for shipping. 
These are all their products.  They have several different rums, moonshine, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and liqueurs. We tried several, but unfortunately they were out of our favorite, bourbon.  We did buy a bottle of moonshine for a gift.
There were days during my teaching career when I wished I had a cabinet like this outside my room.  If you want to see a very neat, small distillery put Prichard's on your to do list.
Next we toured George Dickel Tennessee Whisky Distillery.  Dickel is a much bigger operation than Prichard's, but much smaller than the other distillery in the area, Jack Daniels.  They only have 36 employees and the whole process is done the old way, by hand, no computers.  They only make white corn and sour mash whisky here, then send it to Indiana in tanker trucks to be bottled.  No pictures were allowed inside.     
Like all distillery tours it ended with a tasting.  We are happy that Sandy was our designated driver.  Even though it is a smaller operation, like so many distilleries today Dickel is owned by a large corporation with headquarters in London.  That said, the whisky is very good.  
The day was not over yet.  Charles took me to meet his friend Spud, a very interesting character we had heard a lot about.  Seems one of Spud's bulls was stolen and the case was going to court.  It was a hoot listening to this tale of modern cattle rustling.  Later Charles grilled salmon and boiled crab for a wonderful dinner.  We even had a fire and watched the moon rise over the Tennessee hills while we shared tales of our travels.
Good-bye and THANK YOU Sandy and Charles for your wonderful hospitality and generosity.  We had a wonderful time.  As always, making and seeing friends on the road is one of the best things about our RV lifestyle. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

On the Road, Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum

Well, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling like my old self again.  The last round of doctoring and drugs cleared away the rash and hives that covered too much of my body.  And, I'm very happy to report that Opus has a new alternator and we are finally on the road.  The extra time we spent in Louisiana changed our travel plans that had included a stop in Little Rock to tour the capitol and to see friends we had met at Betty's.  We left Poche's on Tuesday and had an easy 200 mile drive to Vicksburg and then another 210 mile drive to Memphis up Highway 61.  As we have been along this route before there were no tourist stops, just driving until we got to Memphis.
Our site at Poche's was surrounded by three lakes and we had a great time watching the birds.  The great blue heron was a very good fisherman.
A beautiful egret in flight.
Since we were less than 50 miles from Betty's over the weekend we drove to Abbeville for one last happy hour this year.  Betty's season is winding down and she will be closing for the summer to recharge her batteries.  We are looking forward to seeing her in North Carolina in August.
On Monday we had a 1:00 PM appointment at Louisiana Kenworth to have the alternator changed.  It seems that anytime we need to have Opus worked on at a "truck" place they let the youngest mechanic work on the RV.  That said, we were happy with the young man who installed the alternator and we now have full electric power.
We hit the road on Tuesday and crossed the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.  Even after cruising down the river from New Orleans last month it still amazes me that these big ocean ships come this far up the river.
The drive on Highway 61 is a bit slower but much more relaxing than traveling the interstate.  Most of the road is four lanes and very flat with little traffic.  The is the water tower at the Crossroads in Clarksdale, the home of the blues.  We stayed here before and visited many stops on the Mississippi Blues Trails.
The National Civil Rights Museum is in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  The museum, which has been open since 1991, underwent a major renovation in 2014.  
Walking into the area the first thing you see is the wreath on the balcony where Dr. King was standing when he was shot.  I remember the photos of that day with other civil rights leaders standing with Dr. King.
Looking from room 306 at the boarding house across the street from where James Earl Ray fired the shot.  It is quite chilling to be standing at that spot.  There is a display about Ray in the old boarding house. 
Room 306 where Dr. King stayed while he was in Memphis in support of the striking garbage truck drivers.  Pretty typical of so many motel rooms at that time. 
The museum follows the struggle for civil rights and the culture of resistance dating back to the first slaves who were brought to America in 1619.  The photos show the harsh conditions of the passage from Africa and the selling and separation of families as they were sold.  Ironically, these words are on the wall around the top of the room, " We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."
A section about the Underground Railroad looks at the routes and people who worked to bring slaves out of the South to freedom in Canada.  Washington, PA is on the map as a stop on the railroad where there were many abolitionists.  The lantern figure when lighted was used as a sign that the house was a safe place.  The box is like the one used by Henry "Box" Brown who had himself shipped to Philadelphia and freedom. 
Another section deals with the rise of the Klan and Jim Crow laws.   This happened after the federal government stopped protecting Blacks in the South, thus ending Reconstruction, a period after the Civil War when many former slaves where elected into the government.   Finally in 1954 the Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education ruled that separate education was not equal education giving the civil rights movement new energy.  
Several displays deal with Dr. King's role in the civil rights movement including his arrest in Birmingham, the I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington and his support for the striking garbage truck drivers in Memphis.  There is also a section on the rise of the black power and pride movement in the 1960's.
This section deals with events from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, to the lunch counter sit-ins, to the freedom rides and the violent response, Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery.  We have visited many civil rights sites during our travels where you get a much more in depth look at the events of the time.  That said, the Civil Rights Museum is a great overall look at this struggle for rights that continues to this day. 
After the Civil Rights Museum we lightened it up with a stop on Beale Street to listen to some blues.  We were happy they had music in the afternoon so we did not have to stay up too late:)

We have made plans for the next couple of weeks as we head north.  From Memphis we will be spending a couple of days with our friends Charles and Sandy in Lewisburg, TN.  Then on Tuesday we are heading to Frankfort, KY to tour the capitol building.  We have a reservation for Memorial Day weekend in Ohio and hope to add the capitol to our list.  Then we are stopping to see our friends Jim and Darlene at their new retirement home in Senecaville, OH.  We had some extra time and decided to spend the weekend in WashPA to see family and friends before going to visit Mike and Sherri at their cabin at Pymatuning Lake in northern PA.  It is great to be back on the road.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Last Week at Betty's, Friends, Butterflies and ER

While most of the people who were at Betty's for extended stays have hit the road, there has been a constant stream of people passing through.  Some for one night, others for a few days, and some for a week.  Some are friends we have met before and others are new faces.  It is always great makes and seeing friends here.
The group was smaller but we went to Black's one last time for half priced seafood on Wednesday.  Here are Ken, Connie, Mike, Betty and George who all own Lazy Daze RVs.  We met them here last spring and had a fun time.
Jim, Nanc, Alfie and Betty at Black's.  All the great restaurants in Acadiana is another reason to come to Betty's.
Only in Louisiana would you see a pick up full of mudbugs heading to a Mother's Day celebration.  These people know how to eat and have a good time!
A few people who passed though this last week.  Top are Jim and Barb and Ken and Connie.  Bottom are all new fulltimers Bret and Frankie and Michele and Gaia.
Many of those here recently have been Escapees.  Jan and Bill are heading to Vermont for the Escapade and Dave and Lynn have a lot at the SKP park in Benson.
On Saturday we went to our last Cajun jam session at Touchet's.  It was great seeing our Acadiana friends one last time.  Our friend Ollie had to go to a wedding but we did stop by her house for a visit before the jam.
Betty has created a butterfly habitat in the park.  She planted milkweed, the monarchs favorite food, to attract the caterpillars. 
She carefully picks them off the milkweed and puts them in butterfly nurseries so the geckos don't eat them.  They require almost constant feeding so Betty cuts leaves from the milkweed and puts them in the boxes.
After a few days the caterpillars attach themselves to the netting on top and weave a cocoon turning into the larva.  Once they start the process from caterpillar to cocoon it only takes two or three minutes.  This is very neat to watch, they look like they are pulling on a sleeping bag.
After about ten days the beautiful monarchs begin to emerge from the cocoon and after drying their wings for a short time are ready to be released into the wild.
They seem eager to get out and grab onto your finger to be removed from the cage.  This is Betty's Mini Butterfly Bungalow that got her started.  It has become such a big operation she had to put some in a box and a coffee can.
One of the over 100 monarchs Betty raised and released this year.
Some hang around the patio for a while before flying to the trees. It sure was neat getting to watch the whole process from caterpillar, to cocoon, to beautiful monarch.  This is a male and female.  You can tell which one the male is by the two black spots in the center of his wings.
We were originally scheduled to leave Betty's on Tuesday but decided to stay one more night, those of you who have been here will understand.  Well, on Tuesday I developed a very itchy rash and ended up in the Abbeville ER where they gave me an IV and a shot that SEEMED to do the job.
On Wednesday we said good-bye to our dear friend with the reminder that we can't come back if we don't leave.  We may get to see Betty this summer, as her grandson is living near where my brother has a place in North Carolina.  That sure would be great.

As I write we have only made it 50 miles from Betty's and are at Poche's RV Park in Breaux Bridge.  We were north of Lafayette and the check engine light came on.  After calling Coach Net we returned to Lafayette and they found one of our batteries and the alternator were bad.  The shop we went to changed the battery but could not get an alternator.  After talking to Coach Net about other options we now have an appointment Monday.

On the health front, after we had dinner the rash returned.  On Thursday morning I went to ExpressMed in Lafayette, got another, stronger, shot and a prescription.  I'm waiting patiently for them to kick in.  As someone who has enjoyed great health most of my life I am not a very patient patient. I'm pretty miserable, just ask Nanc.

All this does change our immediate travel plans.  This sure shows both the good and bad sides of having a house on wheels and having our schedule written in the sand.  Bad, dealing with repairs and health issues on the road is a pain.  Good, we have the flexibility to change our schedule to deal with things that happen.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Norwegian Dawn, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize City and Costa Maya

Well, we took our second cruise this year and the second in our lives on the Norwegian Dawn.  We drove to New Orleans from Betty's on Sunday morning and parked the car a couple of blocks from the dock on the Mississippi River.  We were looking forward to comparing Norwegian with Royal Caribbean and can report over all it was a much better experience.  That said, we still don't think cruising compares to the all-inclusive vacations we have taken to the Secrets resorts.  Here is a link to our post about the first cruise.
We did not know it when we booked this cruise but we had friends who were on the same trip.  They were part of a group of 65 people from Discovery Bay, CA so we got to know a lot more people. Here are Joe, Robin, Kathy, Trudy, Paul and Mitch who all welcomed us into the larger group.  It was great hanging out and doing shore trips with all of them.
I enjoyed sailing down the Mississippi and was surprised by the large number of ocean going vessels, as well as river barges, there are on the river.  The is the Carnival that sailed right before the Dawn.  Because of the sharp turn in the river it looks like it passes right through the neighborhoods of the city.  
St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in the French Quarter.  We have often looked up at ships on the river from the square and it was neat looking down on the city.
One of many ocean going ships we passed.  There were many more ships anchored along the banks.  It take seven or eight hours to travel from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course food is a big part of the cruise experience.  In addition to meals in the restaurants, they cooked and served lunch by the pool most days.  We felt that overall the food was better on this cruise than on Royal Caribbean.  But the options do not compare at all to the dining options at Secrets where you can choose from seven different restaurants for dinner everyday.  Of the ten restaurants on board only four were included as a "free" dining option.  In the other six you had to pay extra for your meals.  We did like the freestyle dining that allowed us to pick where and when we wanted to dine rather than having an assigned time and table.
Kathy, Joe, Mitch, Paul Trudy, Dave and Nanc enjoying an afternoon toddy.  We had the unlimited drink package as a "free" ($80.00 each for gratuity) option when we booked.  After boarding Dave wanted to buy the drink package for himself, as his wife did not drink.  They required that both people in a cabin have the package at a total cost of over $1300.00.  He passed.  At Secrets all drinks are included.
The entertainment was very good and there were several options from small bar shows to big stage productions every night.  You also had a choice of many different kinds of music.
The staff was wonderful and even provided dance partners when a husband was to weary:)
Our first full day was sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel.  We took advantage of the day at sea and had a wonderful couples massage in the spa.  This is the Dawn tied up in Cozumel.  We took a shore excursion to Playa del Carmen that required a boat trip to the mainland. 
The excursion, Amazing Secret River, was a very neat walk and swim through a cave that was only discovered in the last 25 years.  We had to wear wet suits, helmets and head lights as there are no other lights in the cave.
It was beautiful and even Nanc, who is not a big fan of water, had a great time.  This is an excursion we can recommend to anyone visiting this part of Mexico.
The next day we were in Roatan Bay, Honduras where we had to be tendered to the dock because there was not enough room for both ships that were there to tie up on the pier.  This was a geographic milestone for us as this is the closest we have ever been to the equator. 
The town center was really just a shopping area for cruise ship passengers.  We did our part for the local economy buying shirts, coffee and jewelry.
The town center from the tender.  It is much nicer looking than the area where we went to do our shopping where locals were selling their wares, rather than stores owned by the cruise lines.
We did have a couple beautiful sunsets.
Next stop was Belize City where the ships had to anchor a 35 minute tender ride from the city.  There were three ships there that day and the color of the water shows why they had to anchor so far off shore.  The water was only 45 feet deep under a ship with a draft of 27 feet, so all three were stirring up the sand on the ocean floor.
Welcome to Belize, a former British colony where English is the official language.  Along with Joe and Kathy we opted for hiring a taxi outside the cruise ship shopping area for a neat tour of the city.
The streets of the city are narrow and crowded with cars, trucks and death defying bicyclists.  While Belize has become popular with American ex-pats, the city is much more British colonial than American.  No Walmart, McDonalds, KFC or other chains other than the Ace hardware store.
St. Johns Cathedral, the oldest church in the city, was built 200 years ago from the stones used as ballast from ships.  Belize gained its independence in 1982 but is still part of the British Commonwealth and has the queen on its money. 
Most of the old colonial buildings were constructed with mahogany that was so abundant when the British arrived.  The wood has be so over harvested that today it is illegal to cut down any tree that is less than 100 years old.  A reforestation program has been started in the last few years to bring back a plentiful supply of this valuable wood. 
We toured the Travellers Distillery where they have been making rum and other liquors since 1953.  This is the old copper still they used in the past.  Today it is a modern operation with automated distilling and bottling. 
Joe, Kathy, our guide Floyd, Nanc and I after we enjoyed a tasting.  We sure were happy Floyd was driving even after only two shots.
Look what Nanc found, a bottle of Nance rum.
One of the tents where the vendors sold their wares.  The beautiful tree is appropriately named the flamboya tree with its vibrant pink flowers that covered the ground under the trees.
Joe and I tried the local beer at each stop while the ladies had margaritas.    The Belikin beer was ok, but their slogan was great, "No working during drinking hours".
All dressed up for dinner, Paul and Trudy, Jim and Nanc and Joe and Kathy.  We had a fun time with them and are already planning to see them down the road.
The last stop was Costa Maya, Mexico which is nothing more than a shopping area built by the cruise ship companies.  The local village here is a couple miles away and only has 300 or 400 hundred people.
Everything you see was build for the tourists.  There was even a large pool for those who wanted to escape the much smaller ship pool.
Voladores de papantla, pole flying, is an ancient Mesoamerica ritual that according to one myth was a ceremony to end a drought.  The flyers climb the 60 foot pole, pull the ropes up and wind them around the pole.  They then tie the rope to their feet or waist and slowly descend as the rope unwinds while one of them plays the flute and drum.  We had never seen this and it was very neat.
I took advantage of most people being in Costa Maya and actually got into the pool when it was not over crowded.  It was salt water and very warm.  This is another big difference from Secrets resorts that usually have at least two very large pools to handle three or four hundred people instead of one to handle 2000.
The last show we saw was an extravaganza that featured dancers, a feast of flying acts and a magician who put on a great show with the themes of Earth, Air, Water and Fire.  At the end they brought out crew members from all the departments to be recognized along with a few of the flags of the almost 60 countries represented on board. 
The last day was at sea and the pool and sun deck were packed.  We found a quiet corner to read and nap and did not join the masses at the pool.
They did do an ice carving that was really impressive.  The man carved the whole thing in about 15 minutes.  This did attract a few kids, but there were not nearly as many on this trip as on our first one.
When we were doing our morning walk the last day, still several hundred miles out to sea, we saw this lone pelican soaring along with the ship.  It was still there late that evening after dinner.  I think it was just enjoying the free ride back to shore as it never landed and rarely flapped its wings the whole time we watched it.

Overall we thought this cruise was better than the one we took in February on Royal Caribbean but we still like the all-inclusive vacations better than cruising.  At Secrets the food is better, the rooms are bigger, the pools are much nicer, the internet is included and they are not asking for more money, as everything is included in the up front cost.  We did very much enjoy our time spent with friends, Joe and Kathy, Paul and Trudy along with their friends from Discovery Bay.