Featured Post

Baltimore by the Sea

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday in Charleston, South Carolina

Early today we drove into Charleston. After a short 'drive around & look-see' tour, we parked and walked through the Slave Market. The Market's name is derived from slaves who ran it & sold goods there, but not because slaves were sold there. I mean, Farmer's Markets don't sell Farmers, right?  Glad we straightened that out. 

View of the Slave Market in Charleston
View inside Charleston's Slave Market
It's a long walk down the center of the Slave Market - a FUN walk

The sign to the left is why I felt at home... no wait a sec, that was a sign at a butcher's located in the market.

After some light shopping at the Slave Market, we were ready for a lovely draft horse drawn cart tour of old Charleston. The cart tours were all lined up across the street from the Slave Market.

Loading up the cart for our tour - Ila on the far right
I loved the tour. Our scraggly bearded guide was a Civil War history buff with loads of opinion and interesting stories about the war, and its effect on the city of Charleston. If you took a tour with this guide as we did and remembered all the details he gave you could probably challenge and earn a BA in Civil War history at a college. However, if you have no more memory that I do, you would pick up lots of odds and ends of information, enough to boggle your mind as you slip in and out of a state of attention to what he said.

Of all the homes that predated the Civil War, this was my favorite
My favorite tidbit our guide told us of, was about a slave, whose sea faring skills were so finely honed, he was well paid to guide ships along the coast. The local whites used to say, "Tarnation if' in he don't look just like a captain' (i.e., a white captain). That gave the slave an idea. The first time he found himself guiding a ship with an all black crew, he ran the ship up to the Union army, surrendering it. That earned him a golden ticket to meet with Pres. Lincoln. The ex-slave agreed to help the north navagate the waters off Charleston, making it easier for the north to bomb the crap out of Charleston. Post-war the ex-slave bought the very house he was born in - remember, he was born a slave, so this meant he bought his old master's home. That master was dead and his wife was empoverished and 'shell-shocked'. So, the ex-slave moved his family into the house, and let his former mistress stay on to live with them all. How shocking must that have been back then? There ought to be a movie made of that - I can imagine Denzel in the lead - though I imagine no one would probably believe it.

View of a 'Gentleman's' Garden
The beautiful garden above was called a Gentleman's garden. There were also 'Lady's' gardens, but those were hidden so you couldn't see them from the street. Heavens forbid in those days if a lady were to be seen 'laboring' - quite the scandal in those days, quite enough to give anyone the vapors.

A few folk who remembered today is Easter Sunday
Another highly impressing Antebellum home
The spooky bit of the tour was looking at the staid old homes and viewing the slave quarters off in the rear. Slave quarters! I mean, there was one home where the guide told us 7 folks in a white family lived,  with slave quarters in the rear that looked like nice old fashioned cottages, & held 75 slaves. Gulp. Owning someone in the manner of a cow or spaniel. A bizarre concept, although it still happens on this strange planet of ours.

In the Civil War era Charleston was bombed like crazy, withstanding 2 major hurricanes and an earthquake and yet the old Antebellum buildings still stand. There is a downtown Charleston church that was regularly bombed during the war. In more recent times when working on the church restoration, they left the cannon balls encased in the walls alone, least the walls lose integrity & collapse. Yeah, old Charleston took a lickin' and kept on ticking.

For no good reason at all, here's a quickie look at the Horse drawn cart tour we took. Not the most exciting of videos, but it'd go well with a cup of coffee or maybe a mint julep.

Following our Charleston tour, we hit the road, driving to Black Mountain, North Carolina. There, we found the Blue Ridge Assembly YMCA, and went on to figure out the location of our cabin. We are now there, at long last. More on our Black Mountain adventures tomorrow. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Murial in the Savannah History Museum
Savannah Tour Bus

Leaving 'the Big Easy' behind us, we traveled east, whipping through lower Mississippi, then Alabama & into Georgia. After spending a night in Metter Georgia, we arrived in Savannah. Again, as in New Orleans, we sought the Visitor Center which doubles as a history museum. Soon Ila and I held city tour tickets with Old Savannah Tours for 90 minutes of southern fun. 

Ila's one complaint was our trolley's tour guide's Savannah accent was a bit too thick to take in, & as I didn't have that problem I was all smiles. The beautiful old buildings were built facing central parks that stretched on for a mile or so. The bus wound through the ancient streets, each of the little, connected parks as our guide gave us the scoop on what famous persons - many connected to the Civil War - occupied the staid old homes.

View as tour bus swings around one of the tiny central parks

The buildings all looked positively ancient, but though side by side & looking so much alike, one building might be 100 years old, and the one next to it might be a baby building, only a decade old. That's because new buildings have to use attributes from other buildings in its vicinity. Great planning.

Crazy pastel house
I forgot what famous personage lived in this adorable eensie little house
The house below is called the pirate's house, because in the 18th century it was a popular place for honest-to-God pirates to wet their whistles. If you ever read Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, some of the action in his book is supposed to have taken place in this old building!

The Pirate House, was built in 1754
Gentleman's stairs on the left, Lady's stairs to the right

We skirted one park and were told it was the one where Forest Gump sat as the feather floated down at the start of the movie of the same name. Speaking of which, we stopped and who got on the bus...

Guess who boarded the bus!
FOREST!  All the tour participants began to giggle in an unabashed manner, tickled silly within an inch of all our lives. Forest told us he was on his way to see Lieutenant Dan, who was going to help him find and purchase a shrimping boat. Then, as if we weren't all charmed enough, he seated himself for the journey. Somewhere in there I asked him for a chocolate from his big box of 'em, because, well you know, because that's what life is like. He gave me one - score & SWOON!  I was so flustered & silly I only got shots of him when I ought to have taken a video.*

After Forest ran off - literally - The tour continued, taking us all down to the cobblestone'd streets by the water front. We saw the famous 'Waving Girl' statue on the shores of the Savannah River.

We saw the famous 'Waving Girl' statue and heard her story
Traveling down the ramp to the water front
As soon as the tour was over, we headed back down to the waterfront where after a quick lunch, we boarded a steamboat for a cruise down the Savannah River. Viewing the river was fun, but viewing the birds on the river was even more fun.

Viewing the shoreline from the middle of the Savannah River
The view up river
By the end of the day, both Ila and I were planning future trips to Savannah in our mind's eyes. The city positively reeks of grace, beauty and history. I could easily spend a week or two soaking up more of Savannah's charm. Unfortunately we have an agenda, places to go and things to see, so when our tour was over we headed off to spend the night in North Charleston, South Carolina. 

*Bonus!  Here is a video I found on line of Forest Gump. That's not the bus driver we had, but that's 'our' one and only Forest! He spent lots more time with us, sitting in front of me for a while before he spotted Lt. Dan and ran off. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Change Back from a French Quarter

Very nearly total proof of visitation

It never occured to me I might one day visit New Orleans, or rather, 'Nawleens', the height of American jazz & cool. But yesterday we drove on into Louisiana.

First up we checked out the Nawleen's Visitor Center where we told a bus tour of the city was an E-ticket, and it was. But first, we were urged to visit the old city cemetery located right behind the visitor center. It is officially called 'St. Louis Number One Cemetery'. 

Checking out who is buried where in the old City Cemetery
The cemetery was amazing - it covered an area of one city block, so I was able to cover most of it pretty quickly. It dates from the 1720s and it is still accepting new customers, provided they meet the criteria, i.e., dead. The graves are located above ground for sound reason; the water table is wildly unpredictable. After a hearty storm the water table rises, causing buried coffins to pop up out of the ground like macabre toast. To avoid the 'Pop Tart Coffin' effect, the locals interred their dearly departed above ground. The vaults often contain generations of family.

There are many famous patrons located in the cemetery, the most popular being Marie Laveau, a notorious and still much honored Voodoo Queen. Though she died in the 1800s, as you can see below, she still receives a good deal of 'hoodoo money' in exchange for favors. Madame Laveau may be dead, but she is still influential.

The lady takes her due
Here lies Plessy

Another famous inhabitant is Homer Plessy, who is famous for his part in history when he sued the State of Louisiana and lost. The result was the U.S. Supreme court making legal the notorious 'Separate but Equal' bullshite the American south got away with right up until my own childhood.

Enough cemetery commentary. After our self-guided cemetery tour, we boarded the Big Red Bus, to take a full city tour. We sat on the upper deck.

No surprise, our the first thing we drove past was Cemetery #1, so we got an aerial view of it all.

High atop the double decker tour bus, I relaxed, listened to much of what came over the loudspeaker, and ignored other bits. Overall the impression I got is that despite that most of the shots of New Orleans I've seen is of the French Quarter, that is only a small area of the city. There is a huge main drag through the city center. Trolleys run down the avenue and with loads of places to blow money on anything you can imagine.
The 'main drag' in New Orleans
 The tour took us past the infamous Storyville, known for it's open & legal prostitution around the turn of the century, where Jazz music grew up and learned to shimmy. We passed countless restaurants, and a fair amount of museums, like this one, the lovley and v. old art museum.

And we hit the area of town where the Mardi Gras happens. There are strings of beads, all colors, growing like wild moss on every light fixture and tree.

We saw the long, mansion bordered street the Mardi Gras Parade travels down. And too, we saw the little islands in the center of the streets where the locals set up their traditional BBQ grills to cook while viewing the proceedings.

The bus even drove past the gigantic warehouse where Mardi Gras floats and stuff are stored in the 11.9 month off season
Where Mardi Gras hangs in the off season
View into the warehouse - there be dragons there!
When our tour was over we hunted down and stayed at a historical hotel, The French Market Inn. It was a great treat!
The French Market Inn
Inside the grand old dame of a hotel were stone walls and even a lovely back garden with fountains. We had to pass by the gardens and wind through corridoors to make it to our amazing room. Its ceiling was at least 14 feet high and the walls were all brick and to use my favorite line from Victor/Victoria, the bathroom was a religious experience. We only stayed in the Big Easy for a single night, but I hope I get to visit there again some day. Hey, it could happen.

The remainder of the day we toured, ate our way through the French Quarter. I, being highly under exercised was rather tired by then, but I was also tickled to be in the grand old city. Oh, and I got another stamp for my National Parks Passport book at the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park. Sweeeeet...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Visiting the Alamo

Yesterday was a long day. We drove 500 miles from El Paso to little ole San Antonio, Texas. Frankly the biggest thrill of the day yesterday was the motel we stayed at had make-'em-yer-danged-self waffles shaped like the State of Texas. Mighty good eaten they wuz too pard'ner.

We stopped for lunch in the tiny & charming little town of Ozono TX. It had a cute little plaza (not that small really), a big beautiful courthouse and a statue of pioneers in front.  Around 4PM we pulled into San Antonio. A quite pretty city, I am told it is culturally rich as well.

We booked a room a couple of blocks from that long famed bastion of Texas, the Alamo.

The Not as Huge as one might expect, Alamo
The following day, we were up early for our tour of the Alamo. We walked over and soon gained entry to the Texas stronghold. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, because I really didn't want any of the Texas Rangers (two of which are shown on the right in the photo above) to have to wrestle me to the ground for my camera. The Alamo interior is a bit dark, and as tall as the height of the building. There stand numerous free standing showcases full of interesting artifacts, such as deeds, paperwork and a fair number of weaponry.

It took about 20 minutes to satisfy my curiosity on the Alamo itself. Hum... come to think on it, it took only 3 minutes for me to satisfy my irrational need for an Alamo National Historic site stamp for my  National Parks Passbook. Am not totally sure the Alamo is even a part of the National Park system, but hey, they have their own way of doing things in Texas.

So, what's my best fact about the Alamo?  That the Alamo is Spanish for 'Cottonwood tree'. A peaceful name for a site whose history is indeed, plenty violent.

Diorama of the famous Battle that took place between February 23 and March 6, of 1836.
Another view of the Alamo
The Alamo grounds
Ancient tree on the Alamo grounds
Where you buy boat passage

After our tour of the Alamo and its grounds, we got directions from a nice lady in the gift shop and headed for a boat ride to tour little ole' San Antonio. Now, read carefully, these are the directions we got from the lady:  "Y'all walk to the Mall, then take the escalator down to the tour boats".

Take the escalator DOWN to the boats? Huh?

Turns out we did just that.The photo to the right shows what the river (the green stuff on the bottom of the photo) looks like from the mall. The city of San Antonio is elevated high above ground level so when you are at the Alamo you have no idea initially that you are walking in the clouds, so to speak.

The little boat tour takes passengers and their guide along the 'River Walk' which is famous for its points of history, shops, restaurants and at night, it's bright sparkly lights. It's a great walk for tourists, but I'd rather ride, thankyouverymuch.

A San Antonio tour boat showing off the steps
Yellow-crowned Night Heron

The surprising bit about the boat river tour was when I got aboard, I was expecting to see natural riverbanks, flocks of wild waterfowl and gentle reeds blowing in the wind. What one sees on the boat trip is a cement contained waterway lined by the aforementioned restaurants and shops. Mind, that's not a bad thing, but it wasn't what I expected. What I did expect... well, actually what I expected and prepared for, I got - Yellow-crowned Night Herons! The southern water birds were high up in the trees over the riverway, and I was ready with my zoom lens and got a few pictures. It as a fun & relaxing little water run, but don't take my word for it, see for yourself.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Touch of Paint, and Petrification

A strange land form along Route 66, New Mexico
Have been on the road in the southwest, headed eastward. I'm traveling with an friend who used to work with me in Project Recycle for the State. She asked if I'd like to join her trying out volunteering at a YMCA at a mystery destination in an Eastern state. I thought, 'Hey, I'm retired, why the heck not, right?'
So, we left Sacramento, drove south and now we've already entered Arizona, and exited it, 'stage right' so to speak. Today we are in New Mexico, but only for the day as we whiz on through it. Not really taking time for doing much but stopping to gas up and/or eat.
A New Mexican Mesa
Other than a very few 'out the window' shots along the New Mexican Highway, there was only one other photo op. I noticed freeway signs touting "Painted Desert National Park". I thought, 'If that park is just off the freeway, we're going to stop there."   It was only a mile or so from the freeway ramp, so we checked out the visitor center.

Here's my 'we were there' shot
 Interestingly enough, some places are so full of cool things, that they each deserve a park of their own. Hence, the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, share a Visitor Center but are each a separate park in their own right.
The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert Visitor Center

I'm always intrigued by the pottery of the New Mexican region. The unique  design often puts 20th and 21st Century artwork to shame, at least in my opinion.

Hopi Indian Kachinas and Squash Blossom necklaces on display, represent the Southwest's original artwork and beliefs.

I collected the National Park ink stamps for the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Parks. Sad news is we didn't take the time to actually walk or even take the auto tour for either park. So, in honor of the occasion, I invented a concept - Cheat Visit. A cheat Visit means I got a park stamp, but didn't actually tour the park. Until I properly tour these two parks, the ink stamps will have 'Cheat Visit' penciled in under them. I do believe this quick stop in New Mexico represents the first time I've done such a thing. I hope I don't have to do it again in the future.

The day ended in the not-exactly-sleepy-or-little town of El Paso Texas. We thought we had driven into the town of El Paso, and I looked to the south of the freeway and saw what looked like a Brazilian slum. Turns out it was actually a Mexican city. Always shocks me to see how drastically things can differ when an imaginary land bisects a single land mass: USA on one side, and Mexico on the other. As we drove on we realized El Paso is a huge city, rather overrun with shops and stores and it sprawls a bit. We'll spend the night here tonight, then continue due east, and on across the BIG state of Texas.