Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We left Tuscaloosa at 8:15 anxious to have this last day of travel behind us. We are listening to a new book and it should last all the way home. The sun is shining and it is 38 degrees – cooler than we are used to but not what we had anticipated. The weather report in Kingsport today was freezing fog – that did not sound too good!
The drive was long – we stopped once for gas and once for a picnic lunch just north of Chattanooga. The rest stop was brand new with the travel pamphlet displays just being set up today. The signage was not even finished with Men and Women signs taped on the walls.
When we got in the Sprinter this morning – Garmin told us we would be home at 2:30 – we made it and found most everything in good shape. We have a couple rather sickly looking plants that badly needed water. We unloaded the refrigerator and brought in a couple loads of things we might need tonight but will leave most of the time consuming work for tomorrow. Ben has to do an inspection on Thursday and Jane has commitments for Friday but for tomorrow – no one will even know we are back! Tomorrow we will get the mail and deal with it; do the laundry; and unpack and clean the Sprinter. Then Thursday we will re-enter our lives…
In retrospect this was a really good trip – a good blend of urban and remote locations to visit. We knew the state of Texas was big and this trip proved it. Our total mileage for the month was 5,828. The only days we drove over 300 miles were those traveling to and from Texas. Most days the driving was between 50 and 150 miles. The state is quite varied in cultures, terrain, and in the types of agriculture, resources, and businesses. We saw some homes that were of lower income families but nowhere did we see overwhelming poverty. Granted we did not see every part of the large cities but we did see many neighborhoods that were far from wealthy. All people we met seemed very proud of their state.
We learned a lot of Texas history, we learned about Tex-Mex, Texas BBQ, and Cajun cusines. Jane was able to cook a wider variety of foods in the Sprinter than on previous trips. The weather was great. We had rain two or three days but the only day it rained all day was one of our travel days home. There were several nights we could have been cold without our heater. There were only 3 nights we did not have electricity and while a couple of them were cool, our sleeping bags did their job. There was nothing we would do differently.
In a couple days I will upload the missing photos and an overview of the trip.
Monday , November 30, 2009
Rain woke us up. Looking outside it was gray and wet with no sign of any break in the weather. Looking online at the weather it looked like that might be our lot for the entire day…oh well we have had very little rain and all we plan for today is one tour and driving, driving, driving…
We headed out a side road to Avery Island and the Tabasco Factory. We got there at 10 till 9:00 and had to wait at the toll gate to the island until 9:00 to enter! Along this small road we drove past fields of rice and sugar cane – both irrigated from small canals.
The story of Avery Island and Tabasco was interesting.
The island was created when a salt dome pushed up from the water. There is oil under the salt dome. The salt mine here is one of the oldest in the country and was carefully guarded during the civil war and finally captured and occupied by the north. The family was here before the civil war and returned to their land after the civil war. They mined the salt first and then began raising the peppers when a friend gave them some seeds from Mexico. The peppers are still grown here but additionally in Central and South America because they have a longer growing season. The peppers are all picked by hand and only when their color matches a red stick the family has provided for each worker. The peppers are prepared the same day they are picked – by washing and then grinding and mixing with a small amount of salt. The “mash” is then packed in oak barrels that they purchase from Jack Daniel. The lids with one small hole are put on the barrels and sealed with a salt paste from their own salt mines and the barrels of pepper mash ferment and sit in storage for 3 years.The barrels from the other locations are shipped here for storage and further preparation.
Barrel of Tabasco Mash sealed with Salt
Only after the 3 years of aging is the sauce made from mixing the mash with vinegar and any other seasoning ingredients. We were familiar with the red Tabasco and green Tabasco but not the wide variety of products they made. We watched the bottling of both red and green sauce today. We also tasted two types of flavored ice cream – jalapeno (Ben’s favorite) and sweet and spicy (Jane’s favorite); Tabasco cola, several sauces, jellies, and candies. You could easily spend $100 without trying. We bought a few things and headed back outside. They had a restaurant bar and we purchased Crawdad Etouffee and Boudin that we planned to eat for lunch. They also had Red Beans and Rice and Crawfish Corn Maque Choux. We wanted all 4 but really did not need that much lunch!
Crawfish Etouffee and Boudin
It was still raining as we left Avery Island. The family still lives on the island and manages the Tabasco Factory which sells Tabasco in over 160 countries! They have a bird sanctuary and tropical garden on the island that is supposed to be very nice but it was 10:20 and we felt we needed to be on our way home.
The rain continued up 90 to I-10 to Baton Rouge where we took I-12 instead of I-10 to New Orleans.
Bayou along I 12 - probably 30 miles of this on an elevated interstate.
Near the Mississippi line we picked up I-59 and began driving north east. Our last gas stop in Louisiana was interesting. It was part liquor store, part fast food, drive through Margaritas, and normal gas station stuff – it was indeed interesting. It seems strange to me to be selling liquor and gas in the same location – particularly the mixed drinks!
Still raining we continued to the Mississippi Welcome Center where we heated our lunch in the microwave --- it was really good. The Crawfish Etouffee was outstanding and the Boudin very interesting. It is a sausage casing filled with rice seasoned with pork and various Cajun spices. We shared both and it was more than enough lunch. We may not have spent much time in southern Louisiana but we certainly sampled their foods!
We continued across Mississippi and into Alabama where we made the decision to drive until 6 or 6:30 and stay in a Comfort Inn. It finally stopped raining about 3 PM. We made one stop at a Cracker Barrel in Meridian Mississippi for a book on tape. Since most Comfort Inns have a microwave can eat some of our leftover food which was our plan for tonight. We stopped in Tuscaloosa and will be on our way to Kingsport tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will be no rain. It is cold for us here – in 40’s and we expect it to be in the 30’s at home….back to reality.. Photos will be added when I have time
Sunday, November 29, 2009
We were up and on the road at 8:30. Pretty good considering we had to pack up and then unpack into the Sprinter! First stop was the Alamo so Jane could get a photo without all the tourists in front!
Last v1ew of Alamo
The sky was very overcast so we will have to see how the photos turned out. We were out of San Antonio before we knew it and on I 10 headed east. It was almost 200 miles and our only stop was at a Flying J for gas and a bathroom break. Jane also had to search for another book on tape – boy did she pick some bad ones…we tried 3 and rejected them all as boring and with no plot. When you were 30 minutes into a tape and there was still no plot – not a good book. We finally found one that was pretty good. When it is over we will have to make a stop at a Cracker Barrel or a Flying J to rent one… These next few days of driving are fairly boring if we don’t have books.
Traffic through Houston was not as bad as we had anticipated and we were straight through on I 10 without any problems.
Houston and its' Complicated roadways
Then we headed east to Beaumont and Louisiana. We stopped at a roadside picnic area and had lunch. Later we stopped at a HEB in Beaumont for Jane to get milk and some chili peppers etc. This area of TX has a definite Cajun flavor with lots of Cajun food in the market alongside the Mexican foods. There are numerous chemical plants along the gulf slightly south of us and we recognize the names of many places that have had serious flooding over the past few years.
We crossed the Sabine River and were in Louisiana.
Sabine River - as we leave Texas
Having been in TX for a month it is sad to leave. Louisiana had their welcome center closed so it was good we got a map and information book on the way down. We continued on towards our goal for the day – Avery Island LA. This is the location of the Tabasco Manufacturing Site and we wanted to tour and buy some hot sauces.
We stopped first in Abbyville but neither of their RV parks had bathrooms so we continued on to New Iberia and are at the KOC Kampground. We are 7 miles from Avery Island and will head there first thing tomorrow. There is also a rice mill here that we might visit if we don’t stay too long at Tabasco. We arrived at 5 PM and got a recommendation for a restaurant to visit for local seafood. We had a hard time finding the R&M Boiling Point – but finally found it and had crawfish and shrimp. Neither of us had eaten crawfish – it was good – tasted sort of like clams – a little chewy. But we can claim to have eaten them now in LA too!
Campsite at New Iberia
Back at camp we finished organizing the storage. We have purchased several things and had to find space for them! Now it is time to estimate possible locations for stopping. We think we can make it in 3 days if we drive close to 400 miles each day – today we drove 480 so maybe we can take off some time tomorrow morning for touring. We really do not have to be back until Thursday so we have time.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
This hotel was a zoo this morning! We could tell when we looked out the window at the parking lot that they were at capacity – every spot was full plus any other places you could put a car there was one there! We were up in time for breakfast so headed down – the elevators were packed with people coming up with plates of food or going down with luggage. We finally made it down and found a long line for the breakfast…I do not mean 2-3 people waiting I mean 15 or 20! I have never seen a hotel breakfast room like that. When we finally made it past the waffle making station things smoothed out a little and we got eggs, sausage, muffins, and some fruit and headed back up to our room. The breakfast area was full, the bar was full and the lobby was full – what a mess!!!
Later we headed out for our tour of the San Antonio Missions. A chain of mission established along the San Antonio River in the 18th century is a reminder of Spain’s most successful attempt to extend its domination of North America. The Franciscan Monks served as both representatives of the church and the crown. They recruited the native Indians to become members of their missions, taught them skills like farming, and masonry. The missions reflect the building style of the Europeans but were flavored with the art of the Coahuiltecan Indians. They plastered over the stone and painted their colorful designs – most of which are gone. All of these missions have a chapel that is still in use today. In fact two of the chapels were having christening services during our visits.
The Alamo – Mission San Antonio de Valero – was the first built in the area in 1718. It is not under the care of the National Park Service but is under the care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
The first Mission we visited was Mission San Jose. Built in 1720, this mission had a large community organization and extensive agriculture program. One impressive structure was known as the Rosa Window which illustrated the skill of the craftsmen who built the mission.
Mission San Jose
Next we visited Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was located here from another location in 1731. They were known to have over 3,500 sheep and as many cattle. They also raised enough fruits and vegetables to sustain themselves and the fort that protected them. They also traded with other missions. The bell wall of the chapel was well preserved. This was one of the areas where a christening had just been held. The family was having a big family celebration in an area of the mission grounds.
Mission San Juan
Our third visit was to Mission Espada. This mission originally founded in 1690 in another east Texas location was moved here to the San Antonio River in 1731. Here the Indians learned blacksmithing, weaving, and masonry in addition to the agricultural skills. This mission is the only one that made bricks. This was the most remote of the mission in the 1700’s and is still the most remote of the missions from San Antonio today. Nearby this mission is a well preserved example of the aquaducts built to provide irrigation of the fields along the San Antonio River. The photos show the Espada Aquaduct – the oldest Spanish Aquaduct in the United States. It is part of what was a 15 mile system and this part is still in use today.
Mission Concepcion was the final of our four mission visits today. It was also transferred to this area from another location in East Texas in 1731. This mission looks today much as it did in the mid 1700’s. We could not go inside this mission since it was undergoing renovations. As with the others the mission was covered originally in the colorful paintings of the Indians. This Mission had an internal room with several good examples of the painting still visible.
These missions flourished until the late 1700’s until Apache and Comanche raids and diseases that wiped out most of the local Indians led to weakening of the missions.
After this venture we returned to the hotel and headed across to the River Center for some lunch and to go to the 2:30 showing of A Christmas Carol in 3D with Jim Carrey. We got food from the food court and sat outside listening to a Mariachi Band until time to go to the movie. Ben really wanted to see this 3D film and says he will remember 2009 as the year he went to 3 movies – and two of them in one week! The other was several months ago when we went to see Julie and Julia (?). The band was very good with two guitarists, a percussionist, and two guys who played various pan flutes.
When we got upstairs to IMAX the 2:30 show was sold out so we bought tickets for the 4:30 show and went back to the hotel for a rest. Checked email to find out Jeff possibly had a kidney stone and had gone to the ER.
We went back to the Mall and shopped a little and went to see the film. Ben loved it and it was a good rendition of the Christmas Carol. Jim Carrey is very good. The special effects are outstanding. Jane does not like the flying effects in IMAX films so just closes her eyes during that part to avoid getting seasick! Film over we walked down to River Walk to find supper. We ate Fahitas and Chimi at Rio Rio Cantina. The lights and carolers on boats certainly make a festive location – super festive! Jane tried to take photos but her camera just don’t capture the feeling at all.
Christmas on Riverwalk
It is time to think about packing up and heading out tomorrow morning. Found out Jeff is headed home from the ER with pain medicine and instructions to see his doctor on Monday. What a great visit we have had to San Antonio and Texas as a whole. We still have a good bit of travel tomorrow in TX before we head out across the southern states back to TN.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Today was quite a day! We started with a boat tour on River Walk. We were too late for breakfast in our hotel so decided to have late breakfast somewhere on River Walk. We took the tour that lasted about an hour at 10:00. It gave us a good idea of the entire area – most of the River Walk is actual river with flood gates to protect the area in between the two gates. Then there is a man made canal section that goes to the Convention Center that was built when they had a World’s Fair here and to the River Center Mall. I would not have known the difference but learned this on the tour.
After the tour we walked back down or up – not sure which – and stopped at the Zuni Grill and had a great late breakfast.
Ben and Jane at River Walk
Then we walked the other way looking in a few shops. We finally made it to the La Vita area which is composed of small homes from the early San Antonio days – they have been converted to shops by various artists in the area. Nice gallery of original arts – sculpture, paintings, metal work, jewelry, weaving – a very nice mix and we enjoyed lots of looking. Got several ideas for Ben’s metalwork and Jane got ideas for beading and uses for Christmas post cards from Grandmother Mynatt.
La Vita Shop
After all this walking it was time for a break. We returned to our hotel and had a short break. About 4:30 Jane went to Macy’s and the mall for her Black Friday shopping. There had been little traffic on the streets near us until now. Cars were backed up onto the interstate and they were bumper to bumper on the streets around our hotel. Made it into the mall and she actually found some great deals. Ben met her at the assigned place at 5:30. This would give us 1 ½ hours to walk a short way to the restaurant we had picked out, eat and walk back to our seats along the River Walk. We had to be flexible and change our minds – there was an hour wait at restaurants and the whole place was wall-to-wall people. There was a food court in the mall so we just stood in line there for some supper and when we got it found our seats outside and sat there to eat fairly decent philly cheese steaks. There were no seats anywhere in the mall food court. We also had really good cookies from a Toll House Cookie Shop.
The Christmas tree was lit and soon the lights in the trees along the canal came on. The chairs began to fill up. Ours were first row along the canal with only a few plants between us and the water.
Christmas Tree at River Center
This is the 28th year for this holiday parade. There were to be 25 floats. They were built on flat boats – some borrowed from the Rio tour company and some from another company (our guide this morning told us this). The floats started at 7:30 in our location and continued at a fairly good pace for about an hour and 15 minutes.
Floats in River Walk Parade
They were all bright with lights, happy people, and most had live music. It was indeed a great parade. The end of course was Santa and Mrs. Claus. You would have to be in a holiday mood after this parade. The lady who sat beside us lives in Houston and told me she comes every year and brings some of her grandchildren. For them it is a holiday tradition to come to this event.
We made a great choice for a hotel – we are a short walk through Macy’s and across the street to our La Quinta. We have been back in our room for an hour now and the roads below are still bumper to bumper traffic!
Our little van must look strange to our neighbors – the photo shows us in our little Sprinter among all the Big Rigs. Nice people though and everyone we talked with was interested in what we were doing…most could not image living in a little one room van as their rigs have anywhere from 3-4 pretty distinct living areas.
Sprinter at Fredericksburg RV Park
We were on our way about 9:45 after spending a little extra time packing for 3 days in a hotel in San Antonio. We made a stop at another Donut, Crossant, Kolache Bakery for Ben to try again to purchase something special for his breakfast. Jane passed and called her mother. He did find some fairly decent donuts with fruit on top – did not taste like a kolache just a donut with fruit topping.
We headed southwest of TX 16 to Kerrville where we would pick up I 10 to San Antonio. In Kerrville we stopped at a park along the Guadalupe River to take some photos for Jo Anne Jones who used to live in TX and really liked this river. It was a very peaceful park with not too many people enjoying it at 11 AM on Thanksgiving morning! This area has the most fall color we have seen anywhere.
Color along Guadalupe River near Kerrville
Among the live oaks which are green are other types of oaks in deep red and gold. There were also fairly significant hills so the color showed to great advantage. We also talked to Jeff so we were at least in touch with family by phone if not in person today.
We found, or rather Garmin (our unimaginative name for the GPS) found the way easily to our hotel. This La Quinta is a very good location. Not on but very near the RiverWalk and the Alamo; and across the street from a Macy’s and the RiverMall – and tomorrow is Black Friday! Ben says he will let me set the alarm to go as early as I want…I will go sometime but not early in the am!
They let us check in early about noon and we had a short rest before heading out to the Alamo. Several of the locations we wanted to visit were not open on Thanksgiving but we knew it was open. Many of the restaurants were closed along the 3 blocks to the Alamo but we did find one spot open and had a turkey croissant – our Thanksgiving Turkey!
We headed across the street and visited the Alamo. It is quite an impressive story and reminds us to be thankful , especially today on Thanksgiving, for the freedoms we have in our country that often are taken for granted. It is certainly well cared for by the Daughters of Texas who have been charged with its care with no government support since 1905.
Their only sources of income are donations and proceeds from their gift shop….and it was quite a gift shop! After our visit to the Alamo we walked down the street and found the IMAX Theater and watched the Alamo film. It was very well done and just emphasized the sacrifice these men were willing to make for the freedom for their land. The battle on the huge IMAX screen was pretty exciting.
After this and a short walk to find the area of the RiverWalk where we will watch the parade tomorrow night we returned to the hotel and did some reading and planning. Some of the restaurants were closed but not the majority so we selected an area where we knew one was open and headed that way knowing we could eat there for sure. We settled on the Texas Land and Cattle Steak House. Ben wanted to try a mesquite grilled steak and Jane wanted to have chicken fried steak again….they had both! Good food but way too much so we have another dinner in the refrigerator. Ben says if we get much more leftover food we will have to buy another refrigerator!
After a great dinner we walked back to our hotel – following the RiverWalk about half the way. It is certainly an interesting place to stroll – plenty of other people around! Very nice place and tomorrow they will add all the Christmas Lights to the already festive atmosphere. Tomorrow we will take the river cruise and take in several other sites. This place is quite a finale for our great Texas trip!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
We got a late start for the day. First must give a compliment to this RV Park – Fredericksburg RV Park – it is very nice with really more as far as hookups than we need. The big rigs need water, sewer, electricity, cable – all we really need is electricity and cable TV is nice, of course we love it when they have internet and this one does – in fact for the 100 sites here they have 7 different radio sites (that is what they call them) to select from and I have even been able to upload photos which is a first other than at the hotel in Houston. The best thing is their bathrooms – most have a communal room with showers, toilets, and sinks – all in separate areas – this one has 7 or 8 private bathrooms with toilet, sink, and shower all in one small room – really nice! Of course most of the folks in the big rigs do not use the facilities of the park but we do. They also have a large community room with kitchen facilities and TV. From glancing around at the license plates this location has some snow birds in residence for the winter months.
After a slow start we headed into the Fredericksburg downtown area – we are only 1 mile away – and our first stop was the National War in the Pacific Museum. This is the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz who served as Commander of Pacific during WW II. Ben had this high on his list of locations for this trip to TX. It was very nicely done with a section on Nimitz life, a section with memorials to all units serving under Nimitz, a memorial to the 10 US Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George HW Bush who served in WW II. I had not realized each of these men had a connection to this war but they did. There was a Japanese Peace Garden and then probably the most interesting section was a tour through scenes of various WW II Pacific scenarios – an aircraft carrier, a PT boat (one of only 9 remaining ), a temporary graveyard, an assault on a Japanese occupied island, and a Quonset hut hospital. All were very informative and interesting. The largest section of the museum is under remodeling and renovation and will open on Dec 7th with George HW Bush cutting the ribbon to dedicate the Bush Wing of the museum. From the little bit we could see in the windows it will be exceptional. We have a part of our ticket that will give us entry if we can come back!!
National Museum of Pacific War
Japanese Occupied Island WW II
We spent some time walking on the main street and looking in a few shops. We ate lunch in Winslow’s Restaurant – a hamburger for Jane and soup & cornbread for Ben. Then some more looking around in shops with even a few purchases made!
We drove out to Fort Martin Scott on the edge of town. It was used for only a few years during the 1850-1860 time period. Then we returned to town to visit the Market Platz. They were preparing for the huge community holiday celebration this weekend. The Vereins Kirche is an eight sided church that was used by all denominations in the early days of this settlement. In the Market Platz a multi-level German Pyramid about 30-40 feet tall. It was quite impressive. The other decorations in the town were very tasteful and are even more impressive at night.
Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg
After a short rest and email check back at camp we headed to Llano which is 39 miles north of Fredericksburg. Jane had read an internet site that listed the top 10 BBQ locations in TX and this was one of them – Cooper’s Olde Time BBQ. It was a pretty drive as the country here is hilly with trees that are green and red. The first thing you did when you arrived at the restaurant was to select your cut of meat from the bbq pits. They had 8 of them that were probably 8 to 10 feet long. In the cooker were brisket, turkey legs, sausage, prime rib, sirloin, chicken breasts, ribs, and huge pork chops. We selected brisket, sirloin, and a pork chop. This was put on a tray and you took it inside to where it was sliced and weighed. Then you could select potato salad, slaw, peach or apple cobbler, corn on cob if you wanted them. Then you got drinks, a white paper to eat your food on and you paid. In the huge dining area were drinks, sauce, beans, jalapenos, pickles, and white bread. Everyone sat down at the communal picnic tables and ate their food.
BBQ Pit at Coopers Olde Time BBQ Llano TX
The meat was outstanding with the pork chop and brisket the very best. We knew we would have some leftover – planned it that way… you really did not need any sauce at all. We wrapped up our leftovers and drove back to camp. The meat was well worth the 78 mile round trip and we can’t say that about any other food we have eaten!
We will head out tomorrow morning for San Antonio as we near the end of our trip.