Summer Travel Map

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wrapping Up In Albertville

May 31, 2010
Albertville, AL

Today, we wrapped up another great family visit in Albertville. In the morning, we headed back from Smith Lake. In the afternoon, we had plenty of time to prepare for travel and get in a bit of relaxation before we all headed over to Gerry and Lois' place for a Shrimp Jambalaya dinner. Excellent! Tomorrow, we're back on the road again...

We'll miss Laurel and Hardy, the dogs next door.  Or, they'll miss us...

Family conference

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Smith Lake Visit

May 30, 2010
Albertville, AL

We took a couple of days this weekend to make a quick trip to visit our friends Linda and Wendell at their place on Smith Lake in central Alabama. It's about a two-hour drive from Albertville, and we packed a bag instead of taking the coach (nowhere easy to park). It's an easy drive, and we always see something interesting along the way.

As always, a great time was had by all. Saturday night, Geri whipped up her famous "Chicken & Brie" (credit to Jim & Barbara for the original). In the meantime, Wendell came home from his job at a local marina with a whole BBQ pork butt that they were smoking overnight. With the continued rainy weather, things were pretty slow on the lake, so Wendell grabbed one to take home. Man, was that good! Linda simply pulled some off and put it in a bowl with four forks and it just "disappeared".

Sunday, we had breakfast (our traditional Huevos Rancheros with all the leftovers - this time pork butt with onion, pepper, and avocado) and then took a couple of rides. First, we took the Rover around to the marina and picked up another butt. Later, Wendell took us for a spin on the lake. Dinner was another great meal: Wendell hand-cut rib-eyes from a huge slab of meat and they were great on the grill. Another great visit!

Phone service is always an issue out in the country. "Can Captain Morgan hear me now"?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Another Wine Tasting?

May 28, 2010
Arab, AL

You bet! We're always up for that. In this case, it was at a local wine shop called "Vino!" in Arab that Annette's father, Gerry, ran across. After a nice dinner at a new (as in "we-don't-have-our-beer-and-wine-permit-yet new) restaurant called the Fat Rabbit Grille, we did the four-part tasting at the wine shop. Even though there were about 20 people there, we seemed to be the only ones willing to pick up a few bottles. Interesting selection, not bad prices...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dodging Showers, Staying Cool, Eating Well

May 27, 2010
Albertville, AL

It's been another quiet week, as we're nearing the end of our stay here in Alabama. The weather's been alternately hot and sticky or threatening. We've tackled several simple projects but managed to get a lot of relaxation in as well.

After last Friday's graduation, Saturday was "party day". Erik had a group of friends over in the afternoon to complement the family on hand, mass quantities of burgers, hot dogs, and cake were consumed, and a good time was had by all. We played some push-pull rummy on Saturday night, but concluded that it's not a "drinking game" when you have eight people at the table. By Sunday, Alyson and Henry were headed back to Hattiesburg, Annette's sisters were headed back to Charlotte and Orlando, and things became very quiet. There's nothing like a house full of people to keep things hopping!

All week, it's been warmer and more humid (although nothing like the heat wave they're apparently having in the Northeast!) all week. In this part of the country, that's a recipe for pop-up thunderstorms and, the more they "pop", the more severe they can be. We haven't had any really severe storms roll through here (like with damaging hail), although we've had showers just about every day and some thunderstorms have passed by within several miles.

All in all, it's been a week for mostly "inside projects". I've paid bills, puttered around with the widgets on the Blog, played around with a couple of things on the coach (generally in the morning before it gets too hot), finished washing the outside of the coach, signed up to have my remains donated to medical science when I kick the bucket, updated my iPod - just lots of "stuff" that fills up the days. The pups went for grooming and Geri went to the Salon so they're all looking pretty. Geri and Annette went outlet shopping, so I had some cabinet rearranging to do. Rick and I played a few hands of cribbage and we spent too much time watching reality TV, second-guessing the scoring (DWTS, Idol).

We've eaten pretty well this week, working our way through the leftovers from last week and Erik's party mostly at lunch. We made a plan for the week on Sunday and Rick did the shopping. Put it on the list and it magically appears in the pantry; I could get used to that! I made a pot of sauce (aka "gravy") and we had pasta on Sunday. Geri made a great meatloaf on Monday, and we finished off the lobster ravioli and mushroom ravioli that we had in the freezer (Rick passing since he doesn't like either). Yesterday, Rick made "4-Way Skyline Chili", an Ohio favorite (Annette's originally from Ohio) that we'd never had before, serving the chili over pasta with cheese and onions on top (hence "4-way").

Tuesday was Rick and Annette's 25th anniversary (Congratulations for "25 on the 25th"!), but we decided to have a celebration dinner tonight since neither of them has to work tomorrow. We'll be making Chateaubriand with pan-roasted baby potatoes, haricots verts, and a Béarnaise sauce. With a couple of "better than everyday" wines and a "sweetie" dessert wine to go with Geri's pear parfait, I'm starting to get hungry already. Guess I'd better get started with the main course!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Erik's Graduation

May 21, 2010
Albertville, AL

In spite of 36 hours of thunderstorms and threatening skies all morning, the clouds disappeared and the sun shone for Erik's High School Graduation. Even though the school and surrounding grounds were heavily damaged in a F-3 tornado less than a month earlier, the community did a great job of recovering and making sure that everything was in place for the festivities. We attended along with quite a few other family members, including Erik's aunts and families, who traveled from Florida and North Carolina.

The graduation itself was a smooth and relatively quick affair, with over 200 graduates involved. Things went off without a hitch and, before we knew it, tassels were switched and caps were in the air. Fantastic!

Click here for a photo album with more pictures...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A relatively slow week...

May 20, 2010
Albertville, AL

It's been pretty quiet this week. Alyson and her beau, Henry, arrived mid-week, in town for Erik's graduation. I did a pork loin on the rotisserie; we put a dent in the wine supply. I took a ride over to Arab on Tuesday and found the specialty wine shop there closed (ouch!). The weather was nice mid-week, so I was able to wash the Rover (about 3,000 miles of road grime) and half of the coach (shady side). Yesterday, Geri and I made a shopping trip to Huntsville, about an hour away, hitting Costco and Publix and stocking up for a while. The weather's turning rainy, with lots of thunderstorms here and predicted. This is unfortunate, since Erik's graduation is traditionally held on the football field and inside seating is severely limited. Storms are predicted throughout tomorrow, so we'll definitely be playing it by ear...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Next Phase - Alabama

May 16, 2010
Albertville, AL

Friday was our next travel day, leaving New Orleans and heading for my brother's place in Albertville, Alabama. We got started roughly on schedule, a little after 9:00 AM. It was easy to get back on I-10, which we followed east to I-59 near the Mississippi border. We headed northeast, picking up I-20 in Meridian, and stopping for lunch at the Alabama line and fuel just short of Birmingham. Even though we picked up a little afternoon rush traffic around Birmingham, we were still able to get to Albertville around 6:00 PM. A couple of pizzas and bottle of wine later, we were all caught up with the latest news (unfortunately, mostly focused on nephew Erik's new tattoo - ouch).

Yesterday, we relaxed for the most part. I finished a book (latest Dan Brown novel) and Geri started another (last of the "Twilight" series). Rick grilled some steaks. It's all good.

Today, we cleaned up and headed for Erik's music recital in the afternoon. He's taken voice and piano lessons from a local instructor for quite a while, and the recital was quite interesting with about 30 students at varying levels of study. Several were quite good; it was like American Idol without Simon. Here are pictures of the group (Erik is center, rear) and Erik performing.

We had pulled pork for dinner, sampling various sauces in the process. All in all, a good couple of days!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 2 in New Orleans - Walking Tours

May 13, 2010
New Orleans, LA

Our second day in New Orleans started with coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde (it's a tourist-y thing but, hey, what the heck), followed by a stroll around Jackson Square. We didn't get far along the square before we were accosted by a carriage vendor looking to fill up a tour, so we hopped on. It was a short loop around the French Quarter, with historical narration (heavy on references to "Storytown", the bordello district just outside the Quarter) and some name dropping about current NO residents (Brangelina, Nicholas Cage) and people who grew up in the area (Ellen, Richard Simmons, Jimmy Buffet).

After the ride and some additional walking around, Geri headed home and I met up with a group of folks for a "Haunted Cemetery Tour". This walking tour was almost three hours long and quite interesting, even if it was long on the cemetery part and light on haunting (fine with me). We started in the heart of the Quarter and walked past several interesting sites on the way to Saint Louis Cemetery. I enjoyed the tour, and it was an easy walk back to the coach late in the afternoon.

Click here for pictures from today...

We decided to have dinner out, and I used to make reservations at Emeril's New Orleans for an early seating. We took advantage of their free valet parking and had a very nice meal. Geri had a nice salad and Andouille-crusted Redfish, which was excellent (I'm still trying to figure out how to recreate a "crust" with sausage). I started with a Rabbit Remoulade and moved on to Panéed Veal with Crispy Sweetbreads. Paired with a great Melville Pinot Noir from our favorite California wine region (Sta Rite Hills), we had a great meal. Topped off with dessert (Geri's cheese plate and Port and my bread pudding and Cognac), we were filled to the brim. A great way to cap off a short visit to New Orleans...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Touring by car in New Orleans

May 12, 2010
New Orleans, LA

Today, we got a slow start (what else is new?) but did get out to see various parts of New Orleans.

As with many places, I've been to New Orleans on business but "that doesn't count". We also stopped near here, in Slidell, when we did a three-week-long mad dash across the country and back in our first motorhome, "The LearningMobile". We're not staying very long this time, either, but at least we're more centrally-located, just outside the French Quarter.

We headed out late in the morning, and our first task was verifying how we'll get back on I-10 when we leave Friday morning. When you're parked in the middle of a city full of narrow one-way streets with a vehicle combination that's 66 feet long, it's always a good idea to do some reconnaissance in advance. Fortunately, we can make a quick left out of the park, take the first right, and get right on the Interstate about 4 blocks away. Check.

Next, we headed toward the river and the French Quarter, checking out Jackson Square and scoping out places to park the car tomorrow when we do the walking part of the tour. From there, we went southwest into the warehouse district, spying tomorrow night's dinner destination (Emeril's - hey, we have to be touristy at some point!) along the way. We threaded our way along Tchoupitoulas Street, curving with the river, even though it's not visible from surface streets, toward the Uptown District. "Oh, hey, there's a Whole Foods"! Although we specifically needed olives, they had some other things we can't live without.

Supplied and sated (pizza slices), we headed back toward home, weaving our way to and through the Garden District following St Charles Avenue and the famous streetcar line (we'll save the $4 and see it from the car as opposed to the open-air, bench-seat trolley, thanks). St Charles Avenue is a major parade route, and the closer we got to the French Quarter, the more beads there were hanging from all the trees and power lines.

There's still a lot of construction and renovation going on. Uptown and the Garden District are obviously getting a lot of upscale investment, while neighborhoods in between sport a mixture of rebuilt and decaying buildings. We didn't tour the Lower Ninth, which is north and east of the French Quarter (the opposite direction from today's route), but I did note that at least one "cutting edge" tour company does a walking tour there. Not this time, thanks...

Tonight, we'll relax a bit and call it an early night so we can hit the ground running (well, at least walking) in the morning. It should be a busy day...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"If you think you're having a bad day..."

May 11, 2010
New Orleans, LA

...there's always somebody worse off. The last couple of days were interesting, starting yesterday afternoon.

Most of the day yesterday was mundane. We putzed, did prep work for dinner (Cornish Game Hen), and started getting ready to hit the road today. Since we weren't going anywhere in the evening, I decided to hook up the Rover to save time in the morning. I pulled it up to the back of the coach and started getting ready to put the cover on the front and hook up the tow bar, when I noticed a hissing noise. I thought to myself, "Hmmm, the people next door must be running their water wide open". Then I realized that the noise was coming from the Rover. A little bit of investigation led to the conclusion that we had a leaking valve stem on the passenger's front tire. Now, how the heck did that happen? And why now?

Well, we still don't know why the valve stem failed, although I'm pretty sure that they should have been changed when we had the new tires put on last fall, and probably weren't. I did a little research and found that there weren't any Discount Tire stores in Livingston but that we'd pass right by one in Beaumont on the way to New Orleans. After a quick call to confirm, I changed out the tire for the spare. It's great to have the right tools: 20 ton air jack - check; impact wrench for lug nuts - check. This made quick work of the swap, and we were on to dinner (and DWTS)...

Today, we were up early, checked out and on the road. Although the cross-winds continued to be brutal, we easily rolled into Beaumont and had the valve stem repaired. One of the nice things about Discount Tire is that repairs and rotations are free and they have locations all over. We've had work done in AZ, Washington, and now Texas. Other than 45 minutes of our time today, no charge.

The drive down US-69 to I-10 continued to be uneventful, and I-10 was its normal bumpy self until Lafayette, when we ended up in a total stop on the highway. A quick switch from XM to CB yielded the info that only the left lane was open ahead. When we got up there, we found a semi on its side across 2 of 3 lanes. and, that's when we realized that we were having a good day.

Other than some rush-hour traffic coming into New Orleans, the rest of the drive was uneventful. We're parked at a place called the "French Quarter RV Resort", right in the city near the French Quarter and the Superdome. Other than being right in the shadow of the Interstate, it's a nice park. I'm sure we'll enjoy our short stay here; we leave on Friday morning.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cloudy, Windy, Steamy Texas

May 10, 2010
Livingston, TX

We've had a nice and quiet stay here at Escapees HQ in Livingston, TX. The weather's been sauna-like, with lots of low clouds moving through, pushed along by relatively brisk winds. Today, we took a ride in the "East Texas Piney Woods", checking out Lake Livingston which is actually a reservoir (largest solely within Texas) for Houston's drinking water. The area reminded us of the back roads in north-central Alabama, sparsely populated with lots of brick houses.

We ended up looping toward Livingston itself, stopping at the Wally World, resisting the temptation to take pictures of the patrons to post on the Internet, and picking up a few things we needed (and - of course - a few we didn't know we needed). This afternoon, we'll relax a bit and do some of the prep work for tomorrow's travel to New Orleans.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A nice visit to San Antonio

May 8, 2010
Livingston, TX

We enjoyed the remainder of our visit to San Antonio, and headed for Livingston (just north of Houston) today.

Wednesday was our day for visiting downtown San Antonio. We headed for the Riverwalk, a semi-manmade set of circular loops in the San Antonio River that define the downtown area, connecting major hotels and providing a focal point for dining and entertainment. After parking the Rover, we started our walking tour, aiming for Saltgrass Steakhouse for lunch. Geri had seen their crab-avocado "tower" in a magazine and wanted to try it. I opted for the "Hickory Burger". Both were reasonably good.

After lunch, we decided to take one of the river tours, which was about a 35 minute excursion around the whole downtown area. This worked out very well, as it was a lot easier than walking the whole way. After the tour, we wandered back to the Rover and headed home. We relaxed in the evening, opting for a salad given the solid lunch we'd had.

Click here for some pictures from San Antonio...

On Thursday, I planned out an excursion to Fredericksburg, in the "Hill Country" north of San Antonio. Or, better said, I sort of planned it. It took longer than I expected to get there and we left later than I expected, so our time was a little cramped. We passed the LBJ hometown (Johnson City - duh) and Ranch and the Nimitz Museum, and bookmarked the area for a return visit. We thought about stopping at some of the wineries (some are starting to get attention from the Wine Spectator), but needed lunch first so we chose the Fredericksburg Brewery for sandwiches and a brew. The Maibock was better than the Bratwurst Sandwich and the Reuben, but overall it was fine. Late in the afternoon, we headed back to the coach to "free the hounds" who were happy to see us as usual.

Yesterday was another day for relaxation. We puttered, Geri finished up laundry, we packed up for travel. Geri stuffed some pork chops and I grilled them (too much, as it turns out), but we enjoyed dinner and a nice Syrah anyway.

Today, we were up early and ready to head out by 9:00 AM. Our route took us back along I-10 to Houston, then north via I-610 to US-59 to Livingston. We're staying at the Escapees Park here, which is actually the organization's HQ. We'll stay here three nights and then move on to New Orleans for a few days. Beignets at Cafe du Monde - mmmm...

The weather has been sunny and hot, and has turned humid as well. "You're not in Arizona any more, Merlin"! Today was mostly cloudy but still steamy. Tomorrow's forecast calls for thunderstorms; hopefully there won't be any extreme weather...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Slowing down from "slowing down"?

May 4, 2010
San Antonio, TX

This summer, we made a resolution to not have a lot of long driving days, trying instead to slow down and take it easier. Well, we took our time going from Arizona to San Antonio, cutting our drive time each day roughly in half of what we did on the same route in December/January. We rolled into San Antonio around noon on Sunday and, after we got set up we both commented that it felt like it took forever to get here. I guess there's no right answer!

Anyway, we got things set up on Sunday afternoon, acclimated the pups to the park (or "watered" a lot of new spots, depending on your point of view), did some shopping for staples, and did some research into what we wanted to see here. By the time we finished dinner (half a chicken, nicely grilled with mashed potatoes and Geri's sautéed zucchini), we knew that we needed more than Monday-Tuesday here, so we decided to stay longer. It's how we do things these days...

So, yesterday morning I checked the calendar, walked over to the office to add three more days to our stay, adjusted our next reservation (New Orleans) and we relaxed. In the afternoon, we made another short shopping trip, first looking for some shoes that Geri's been chasing after (no luck) and then to the Central Market grocery. We first came across Central Market when we "lived" in Plano, TX, for a while before retirement, and we've found them elsewhere in the country as well. The closest other stores like them are Wegman's, and maybe Stew Leonard's in the northeast. It's not quite as uppity as Whole Foods, but better than chains and Wally World.

We were glad we left the air conditioning on for the pups while we were out, since temperatures have quickly risen into the 90s and will stay there all week. I'll be doing a lot of the cooking outside to help manage the heat. Last night, we decided to eat on the light side, with shrimp cocktail and a nice salad.

Today was simply a day to relax. We took a nice walk around the park, noting an interesting old RV or two (like this old Winnebago with a US map tattooed on it). We also spent some time noodling through our general travel plan post-Alabama and have some inquiries out to family members about their availability as we're passing through. We'll nail the route down over the next few days, even if the schedule remains a little fluid. Geri finished up the laundry queue. I shucked the corn for tonight's grilling experience (steaks and pan-roasted reds). I caught up on bills and budgeting. You know: "life" stuff.

Tomorrow, we'll hit the town, heading for Riverwalk and the Alamo. Thursday, we may take a ride out to Fredricksburg, or continue the downtown experience. Friday, we'll probably relax before we head toward Houston on Saturday.