Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Our Club Med Home Away From Home

La Nina

TRAVEL THERE: GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS SPACES

Since I’d won our trip to Club Med from CTC Travel, we had no idea what kind of accommodations to expect.  How bad could things be at a five star resort, right?  Still, I’ve usually pored over the available information and carefully selected our rooms to be as economical as possible, while providing what we need.  We made out just fine in what they provided – in fact, better than fine.

The Big Picture

Most of the entertainments and dining facilities are centrally located on the property.  If you go one way from there, you’ll reach the Zen side of the resort.  That’s the more exclusive, adults-only part.  If you go the other way, you’ll find building after building after building of more family-oriented hotel rooms.

Our Accommodations

I can’t speak for the rest of the rooms in any of the other buildings, but I can tell you 662 La Nina is a nice place to stay.  When you enter the door there is a hallway.  On the right is a room with a toilet and next to it is another room with the balance of the bathroom facilities, a huge walk-in shower and a large two-sink vanity.

The view from our front door

On the left side is a huge, and I do mean huge, closet.  Along with plenty of hanging space and hangers, there were two stacks of roomy shelving.  If I would have had my druthers, I would have preferred a dresser with drawers, but that’s just me.  The shelves worked fine.  There was also a shelf all around the top of the closet that was great for hats and such.  There was room for everything and to spare.

The room came with some equipment, a hairdryer, a frig, a coffee maker, an iron and an ironing board.  There’s also free wi-fi, not the fastest in the world, but more than adequate for the usual stuff. The Dominican Republic is on the same power grid as the US, so they had the same kinds of power and plugs as we do.

After you get past the bathroom facilities and closet, the room opened up.  To the right was a nice bed, queen-sized, I think.  It seemed a bit smaller than at home.  To the left was a secondary space with two sofas that could be made into beds.  We didn’t have to guess that this was great for families, a pungent smell told us someone had recently had an accident there.  As soon as we notified housekeeping they took care of it, but they had points taken away for it nonetheless.

The view from our balcony

There was also a nice balcony.  I wasn’t really roomy, but there were two chairs, a table and an ashtry, which we no longer see in America very often.  I spent some quality time out there, but had to be careful to wear socks, because if my ankles were bare, some invisible pest would begin to gnaw on me.

We were very comfortable there.  The rooms are not what I consider luxurious, but they weren’t spartan either.  Nicely, but not opulently furnished – it was a beach resort after all.  We especially appreciated the bonus room.  I’d retreat there in the mornings before Bill woke up and he liked to enjoy his online games there.  We slept well every night without any interruptions.

The Fitbit tells the story

We also walked a million miles or at least it seemed like it!  La Nina was sort of in the middle of the cluster of buildings with rooms.  I’m guessing there is a premium to pay for rooms which were closer to the entertainment section, but there were buildings which would have doubled our steps taken.  I hope they are a bargain.

At the reception area they tell you that you can call whenever you like and a cart will come and transport you back and forth.  On our first day we tested that theory and attempted to grab a ride to our room.  So, had everyone else on the property.  Well, not everyone else, but enough someone elses that we weren’t going to wait – especially when we watched an aggressive group jump on a cart and zoom away, rather than allowing the ladies who had been waiting ahead of us to take it.  In other words, we didn’t plan to fight that battle on a regular basis.  While I did see a lot of carts whipping around the property, it was rare for them to have guests as passengers.  Usually they were toting bags or equipment.

So that’s it for our accommodations.  Come back next week and we’ll go to breakfast.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Is This Supposed to be Fun?

Debbie and Francis on the Beach

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE BEACH IS NOT MY FRIEND!

So there I am in the Bahamas with some of my best friends from college. I’m in my early twenties and have spent my life taking vacations on the beach. It’s our first full day at this tropical resort and we’re going to spend the day hanging out in the sun and sand.  This is supposed to be fun, right?

Everything Starts Out on the Right Foot

We’re on vacation.  We sleep late.  We get into our cute swimwear.  We head out to the beach.  We find a spot to line our towels up on the sand.  We grease down our bodies with baby oil – sunscreen wasn’t yet a thing.  We lay down to soak in the sun.

So far so good – right.  Then the breeze kicks up.  Do you know what happens to your greasy body when the sand starts blowing.  I guess I didn’t or I wouldn’t have put the baby oil on in the first place.

My Beach Frame of Reference

See, my beach world had been very different.  The only hanging out we did on the beach was the early morning when we’d go beach-combing for shells and you didn’t need suntan lotion in the early morning.  We’d spend the rest of the morning shopping and then make lunch for the guys who had been golfing.  After cleaning up from lunch we’d head out to the beach en masse and mom would put some suntan lotion on us.  Please note, this was not your soccer mom’s sunscreen.  It was only supposed to keep you from burning and was not designed to protect you from harmful rays.

Here’s the trick.  We didn’t lay down on a towel.  We hit the water and stayed there.  There would be floats for playing in the surf, but most of the time we’d just jump with the waves as they came rolling in.  The Lides had a net and we’d seine for treasures.  We’d play with Frisbees in the surf or play some catch with a beach ball.  We wore ourselves out and yet we still complained hours later, when every inch of our skin was shriveled from the water and our mom would insist we had to get out of the water.

We’d grab a towel from the pile, wrap it around us and head back to the beach house where showers and naps would fill the late afternoon.  For dinner we’d head out and eat at some incredible seafood restaurant.  Once back at the beach house we’d play games, sing songs and talk about life.  

“I Don’t Like This Place”

The moment the wind covered my body in a thin sheet of sand, I stood up and said, “I don’t like this place.  I want to go home.”  This tropical vacation was ganging up on me.  First, they put me in a cinder block room with a salt water shower.  Then they expected me to get in line for every meal and fill my tray like I was still back at SFA.  They also expected me to play bingo and then when I revolted the natives ripped me off in a classic tourist trap move.  Next thing I know I’m supposed to want to lay on the beach covered with sand – and I’m supposed to like it.  I wanted my mommy.

I’ve never been much of a complainer. I’m more of a let’s-have-fun-anyway kind of girl.  I think the very fact I was complaining must have shocked my friends and to boot, I had tears streaming down my face.  They got that I was dead serious.

Let’s Fix This

Debbie and Frances jumped up and put me under a beach-side shower-head.  One friend sat me down in a pool-side chair and the other went to the snack bar to score me a burger and some chips.  Then someone put a book in my hand.

I soon realized how completely juvenile I’d been.  Blood sugar may have had something to do with it, because we’d slept late and missed breakfast.  I began to laugh at myself, which meant that now my friends could laugh, too.  We made an executive decision.  I was not allowed on the beach.  I’d sit next to the pool and read my book.  They moved their towels to be closer to me and everything was all good.

One of the reasons my buddies were so interested in getting a tan had to do with the evening’s entertainment.  Adventure Tours was loading up a bus and taking us to the Casino in Freeport.  Everyone had packed a special dress for the occasion.  Most likely we had visions of meeting some version of James Bond in his tuxedo and we wanted to be ready.

How did that go?  Well, come back next week and find out!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Dinner is Delightful at Club Med Punta Cana

Dessert was Divine

TRAVEL THERE: SAMANA, THE INTERNATIONAL BUFFET

I have no complaints about Club Med Food.  I liked some things better than others, but there was not a thing available that was anything but good.  Meals were delicious all day long, but dinner at Samana was something special.

Bon Jour & Bon Appetite

After our visit to Cielo, we’d stroll across the patios to Samana and climb the stairs.  Just inside the doors we’d be greeted by a delightful lady we came to recognize by sight – even if we doubted she recognized us at all.

We’d tell her there were two of us and she’d find us a table.  You could sit wherever you wanted, but we discovered we needed the hostess.  One night we arrived and she wasn’t standing there, so we wandered around on our own.  A bit later we came back to the door, happy to see her waiting, feeling quite silly for having tried to seat ourselves.

As soon as we had a table, a server would appear and offer us a beverage.   Bill would get red wine and I would get white.  Then we’d disappear off to the many, many buffet table.  We didn’t stick to a particular order for our food.  We’d wander about and pick the things that interested us most.  I think the first night was by far the best, Beef Wellington, escargot, veal and much more.

Confession, I ate more cheese, morning, noon and night, than anyone probably ever should – but it was SO good.  There’s a reason I don’t keep a variety of cheeses in my frig – I would eat them.  Mozzerella, Blue, Gouda, Swiss, Emmantala, Tontine, Farmers, Feta, Brie – along with amazing breads, dried apricots, nuts and more.  I ate enough that it should have been all I ate, but this was vacation, right?

The menu rotated every night. Around the central area,

  • a huge section for appetizers, mostly fresh seafood and shellfish
  • cheese and bread
  • the next section would vary by evening.  The section next to the bread would vary with the evening and then the desserts would begin.
  • An inner circle would offer very international dishes, like tempura, sweetbreads, Mongolian bbq, schwarma, enchildas etc. etc. etc.

The back wall had

  • a salad bar
  • a pasta bar
  • a section for grilled seafood
  • then grilled meats and other entrees, like the Beef Wellington or Halibut Oscar
  • one corner had a pizza oven offering fresh slices – very popular with the kids
  • a section with Dominican foods.

In my youth I went with a group of my college friends to an all-inclusive resort – a Jack Tar Village on Grand Bahama.  Eating was no problem.  You couldn’t eat all the food they offered, but beverages were a whole ‘nother thing.  The beverages were supposed to be included and you could usually manage to get one, but good luck getting refills.  Thankfully, we discovered a rum factory nearby and dosed ourselves quite liberally with coconut rum, but could get little of anything beverage-wise from the staff.  We also discovered the vending machines had beer.  I didn’t have any of that, but I think our group had cleaned out every beer out of every vending machine before the week was over.

There was no stinginess with alcohol at Club Med.  All throughout dinner the waitstaff kept our glasses filled – both the wine and the water.  It wasn’t fine wine, but it was fine – if you know what I mean.  The guest population of the resort was primarily French, if you remember, so I doubt Club Med could get by without the good stuff.  I noticed that most people were drinking rose’, something that surprised me.  I knew it was becoming a thing over here, but apparently the French like it, too.

After dinner there would usually be entertainment, so come back next week and enjoy the shows with us.  I can’t sign off without another thank you to CTC Travel.  Thanks so much, we loved Club Med.

 

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

First Impressions

TRAVEL BUG TALES: NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR

Like the lyrics of “Both Sides Now,” I find myself fond of illusions.  Yes, I do end up being disappointed from time to time, but what fun I have anticipating things – and sometimes I even get it right.

Welcome to the Bahamas!

I always know in my head how I want things to go and much about this trip was a perfect fit for a young girl’s first international travel – especially on a trip without my family.  Some things weren’t so great. 

Take meals for instance.  I’d never been to an all-inclusive resort, so I didn’t realize I’d be going through a buffet for every meal.  I’m not all that fond of buffets – especially free or all-you-can-eat varieties.  The food was fine at the Grand Bahama Hotel, but standing in line with my tray and dipping up my selections didn’t merge very well with my dreams of elegant tropical meals.

Or take the hotel itself.  The entry area was grand enough.  There was a lovely pool area.  Even the beach was very nice.  However, the cinder block buildings where we stayed were not exactly deluxe accommodations.  The furnishing were serviceable, but not more.  In fact, they weren’t even as chic as what I’d become accustomed to in my parents’ favorite hotel chain – Holiday Inn.  What’s more, we showered with salt water!

Bingo?  Are You Kidding?

We checked-in to our cinder block room and unpacked our luggage.  One of our first assignments was to go to the Adventure Tour desk and pick up vouchers for our various entertainments.  That’s when I realized that the first night’s entertainment was going to be bingo.  BINGO?  Was this some kind of joke?

Other events seemed to be pretty good, a native show, a manager’s cocktail party, a catamaran ride with a beach picnic, etc.  That’s what I came to the Bahamas for.  But bingo?  BINGO? I wasn’t buying it.

I started a rebellion.  First I convinced Debbie and Frances that we were not going to play bingo.  I preferred to stay in my room and take a salt water shower over bingo.  The table next to us at dinner felt the same way and soon we had a large group of people who weren’t going to spend their first night in the Bahamas at any stinking bingo game.

I forget exactly how the logistics went, but it wasn’t too long until we were loading into taxis and limos in front of the hotel.  They drove us through a series of unfamiliar streets.  We paid them for a round trip and told them what time to come back and get us.  You probably know how that went, but we were young and had no idea.  So we were on cloud nine.

The taxis had delivered us to a local bar.  Our group was just about the only patrons and that was sort of disappointing, because we were trying our best to go native.  We ordered up some cuba libres and settled in for a good time. After a while, a band began their first set and soon afterwards the natives arrived.  To our delight they were black.  We were going native!

For the first part of the evening the tourists and the natives kept their distance for the most part, but kids will be kids.  Soon enough, the groups melted into one another and we were all dancing and laughing together.  It really was one of the best evenings of travel I have ever had.

Eventually, it was time to go and our transportation showed up, but they claimed we’d only paid for the first half of the trip and we’d have to come up with X dollars to get back to the hotel.  I forget the price, but it seemed steep and we were just college kids who pooled nickels to get drinks.  Somehow we came up with enough money to pay.

That’s when we discovered we’d only been around the corner from the resort.  All the driving around on the way to the club had been a ruse.  We could have walked to and from the club quicker than we could get to the beach and the resort was on the beach.  We could have been mad, but we decided not to be.  The folks who had played bingo were sitting in the lobby looking miserable and we wanted to be sure they regretted not joining us, so we put on our smiles and wrapped our arms around one another.  We’d only just arrived and we were already having adventures.

Next week we’ll head to the beach, so please come back and join us.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Drinks at Cielo Every Evening & All Day Long

TRAVEL THERE: ROCKING WITH A TROPICAL RHYTHM

When they raise the traffic gate and welcome you into Club Med Punta Cana, you enter another world.  It took me a few hours to slither out of the daily grind and figure that out, but I did.  I was still in a bit of a rush as I hobbled back to our room and then headed out again for dinner, but by

dessert, I was on island time.

Denim and White Night

Dressing for Dinner

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel, warned me they had themes each night at Club Med.  It wasn’t a have-to thing, but something to add to the fun.  She’d mentioned a pirate night, but if they have one of those at Punta Cana, it didn’t happen while we were there.  Our first night was White Night.  I wore a mostly white top and some white jeans, but if you are into themes, be warned, don’t take any shortcuts, especially on White Night.  Your fellow members have spent a lot of money on gorgeous white sundresses, white linen suits and all things white.

Saturday was Denim & White, Sunday Red & White, Monday Flowers, Tuesday 45 & Fluorescent – then we went home.  The 45 thing requires an explanation, but it can wait.

Meet You at Cielo

Cielo Bar is a large, circular, open air, (wait for it) palm-frond-roofed bar/cafe/coffee shop/living room sort of place that takes central stage in the entertainment section of Club Med Punta Cana.  We were wandering in and out of it all the time.

During the day they had salsa lessons and various games.  The bar was always open for coffee or drinks.  A serve-yourself soda fountain sat at one end of the U-shaped bar.  A very convenient restroom was around the back.  Though we never quite figured out a schedule, there were often snacks available – pastries in the early hours, chips, salsa and guacamole during the day and at night hors d’oeuvres.  Comfortable sofas and lounge chairs hugged the outer edges.

Red and White Night

Most of our evenings began on the white sofas of Cielo.  A live band would entertain the crowd.  We’d try to make conversation with some of our fellow GM’s (Guest Members), but most of them were French.  We grew to absolutely love the French Connection.  We also discovered we weren’t particularly proud to be associated with the other Americans on the property.

We didn’t usually bother with evening hors d’oeuvres, because the fabulous buffet meals kept our hunger at bay, but we would have a drink.  The first night I tried a rum & coke, which was fine, but I’m really a white wine girl and that became my regular.  Bill would get a beer with a tequila shot chaser.  He really was on vacation.

Many of our French friends would arrive at Cielo in family groups, but unlike the usual situation with American families, the children were not the center of attention and they didn’t sit staring into a tablet or phone.  French children of all ages were expected to sit quietly in their seat, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and sodas, while the adults chatted with one another.  We were very impressed by this.  Temper tantrums and meltdowns just didn’t happen.  Americans are doing something wrong.

Eventually, we’d leave Cielo and head over to Samana, the dinner buffet.  Dinner officially began at 6:30, but the Cielo experience began at 7, so Cielo is where we began our evenings.  Then we’d wander across to Samana.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Falling for Club Med Punta Cana

The Evening Line-up

TRAVEL THERE: LEARNING HOW TO BE CLUB MED MEMBERS

Though I was pretty put out that the orientation tour had fallen out of my grasp, I had to admit we had landed in paradise. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to CTC Travel? I still can’t believe I won the trip.

Learning Our Way Around

As I marched all over the campus trying to get my bearings we made some important discoveries. The tile around the pool was pretty slick when it got wet. We found Samana, where the evening buffet would be served. We found the Cielo Bar, which was sort of the living room of the property.  We found the auditorium where we would have met the tour and where the evening’s entertainment would be. We also found the gift shops and the area where we could get pool towels.

Perhaps my best find was  the schedules for every day of the week, posted on a wall in Cielo. I took pictures of them, because the Club Med app was not only sssslllllooooowww, it also ate up a lot of battery.  I suddenly didn’t feel so frantic.  I’d gotten the general lay of the land and even if the app wouldn’t serve up the schedule as fast as I wanted, I had a back-up plan.  Later, I would also discover a place in the lobby where they made printed schedules available every morning.  My hysterical anxiety began to abate.

 And Then I Literally FELL for Club Med Punta Cana 

A quick look at my watch said dinner was not far off and I wanted to freshen up a bit beforehand. The rain started falling more seriously and Bill told me to watch myself on the slick tile.

We headed towards our room in the rain. I took off my flip flops, because they seemed to add to the slickness of the tile. As we came to some steps, four at the most, Bill grabbed a hold of me to be sure I didn’t slip. I was being really careful, but suddenly there was no traction and I was down.

I hit so hard that Bill was convinced I must have broken my hip. He kept trying to roll me over to see the damage. I knew I hit an elbow and one of my arms, but my buttocks was well-padded.  No problem there.

Everything else paled in comparison to what was going on with my foot. Since my foot had come out from under me without any traction whatsoever, I couldn’t imagine why it hurt so much, but my big toe and my fourth toe hurt like a cuss word I am not going to say.  After I got home I decided my foot had hit a wall next to steps as I came down, but it had all happened so quickly I couldn’t figure what had happened.

So, rain was pouring down and my foot is killing me, but right that minute all I wanted to do was get to the room. I put on a brave face and limped away as Bill tried to convince me I should instead be figuring out what was broken.  Come back next week and find out what happened.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Starving in Paradise

The view from our room

TRAVEL THERE: CAN I PLEASE EAT?

There was no Indian restaurant on the beach.  It was a beach bar named Indigo.  We found our way back to the reception area and got directions to the nearest place to get food at that moment in time, which was the Indigo.

Finally Food 

The Indigo Beach Bar and Grill is an open-aired restaurant, right on the beach.  Initially the charm of it was lost on me, because I was starving.  We were seated and handed some menus.  Speed was not of the essence to them, but my blood sugar had hit rock bottom.

They wanted a drink order.  I remembered all drinks were included, which brought a smile.  I ordered a margarita on the rocks with salt.  The waiter wandered off, so we could peruse the menu.  The margarita returned and it wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be.  There would be no cigars, because it wasn’t even close.  Scratch margaritas off my drink list.  We gave them our food order – hamburgers.  The waiter wandered off and I realized if I didn’t get some food soon I was going to start chewing on the palm-frond roof. 

I gazed around the restaurant, thinking I might spy some crackers or a basket of bread, but to my relief there was buffet of sorts.  It was a salad bar and had a few other edibles.  The salad wasn’t all that fresh, but it would have to do.  FOOD!

It wasn’t all that long until the burgers arrived.  I inhaled that as quickly as I had the salad.  I was ready to figure out where we were and what we were supposed to be doing.  As the calories from lunch began to connect with my brain, I decided to check into the Club Med Punta Cana app and see if I could figure out what was going on.  After all, the welcome crew had told me there would be an orientation tour at 3.  I just had to find out where that would be.

Then Everything Changes

This is about the time it started raining.  Said orientation tour was not on the app. Bill has his quirks.  I have mine.   One of mine reared its ugly head.  I obsessively need to know my way around and I want to know what’s happening.  Bill is much more laid back about that sort of thing than me, willing to wander about aimlessly, not wondering if he’s missing the best activity or not.

After 24 years, Bill and I are getting better at this traveling stuff.  I had allowed him to play computer games on the sofa, even though I was starving and he followed me around the grounds to get my bearings, even though I was behaving like a chicken with my head cut off.  Isn’t marriage wonderful?

We’re about to take ourselves on an improptu, self-led tour of the grounds. Come back next week and join us as we get our bearings for the coming days.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Our Punta Cana Pals

TRAVEL THERE: ARRIVING IN PUNTA CANA

Punta Cana is one of those open air airports.  It was lovely on the day we arrived, but I couldn’t help but wonder how miserable it might be if it was storming.  You disembark onto the tarmac and ride a bus for such a short bit that you wonder why they bothered.  Then you leave the bus and enter the palm-frond-covered terminal.

Happy to be There

Most everything in Punta Cana is palm-frond-covered, but the picture you see was not taken at the airport.  That’s Club Med’s lobby and it was taken several days later.  We did not arrive quite so happy and carefree, but we were happy to be on the ground again.

I was starving, because I had used up all the calories from my morning cookie a long time ago.  I was also not too happy about the fact that somewhere during my sojourn with Spirit Airlines I had managed to get gum on the divided skirt I planned to wear several times during my Punta Cana stay.  I had enjoyed better traveling experiences.

We shuffled along in the terminal, following the rest of the people from our plane.  We waited for our luggage and then something odd happened.  Remember those fees Bill doesn’t like to pay.  Well, he’s not fond of tipping either, so I was surprised to discover that somehow we’d inherited a porter to push the luggage cart we’d wrangled on our own. That’s not our usual MO, but I’m not complaining.

Our porter ushered us through customs and hooked us up with a taxi.  Most taxis in Punta Cana are white vans, not the yellow vehicles that usually come to mind.  A short ride later and we were at Club Med.

Welcoming Ritual

They do things nicely at Club Med.  We were helped from our vehicle and ushered over to a sofa.  A smiling young lady offered us a cool cloth with which to wipe our face and hands.  An inviting fruit drink waited on a nearby table.  Our luggage was unloaded.  We were ushered to a comfortable sofa to enjoy our beverage.  I realized I could get used to this relaxation thing.

While we sipped our fruit drink, a dark-skinned gentleman with a sing-song voice chatted us up.  He pointed one way to tell us about Samantha, Banana or Sama-something where we would have dinner.  He pointed another way to tell us about Hispanola, which was closed.  And then it sounded as if he was telling us there was an Indian restaurant on the beach where we could get snacks.

Snacks sounded good, but then a fresh-looking young lady came to show us our room – La Nina 662.  Rain was in the forecast, but while it didn’t look as if that was possible, heavy humidity whispered that it wasn’t only possible, but probable.  Our guide across the property was an Israeli, but her family lives in Canada.  She’s an intern.  We’d soon figure out that there were a lot of interns from all over the world.

Getting Settled In

Our Canadian/Israeli friend had no sooner shown us to our room, than a bellman arrived with our luggage.  This was one of those situations in which a vacation can go awry.  Damn the luggage, I was starving, but Bill wanted to rest a little.  I’ve learned to let him settle in his way and there is no telling what that will be.  Sometimes he’s ready to go exploring, but not this time, when I would have loved to find the first viable source of food and feed my face.

As he laid on the sofa playing his favorite game on his tablet, I used the time to get unpacked.  That’s usually the first thing I want to do, but this time all I could think about was how hungry I was.  Once everything was unpacked and organized in our room, I looked out the window and decided on a change of clothes before heading out.  I wanted to get out of the gummed skirt and in the humid heat, even the short-sleeved top I was wearing felt like too much.

Bill was still playing his game, but I could wait no longer.  I convinced him it was time to go find that Indian restaurant on the beach.  Off we went!  We tipped our sunhats to our friends at CTC Travel who had given us this great trip.  Come back next week and let’s have snacks on the Beach.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Nawlins

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE CHATEAU HOTEL AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

It’s 1974.  I’m about to start my second year of college, Nixon just resigned and we’re in the French Quarter.  Come along and join the fun.

The Chateau Hotel

As I’ve told you before, Holiday Inn tended to be our usual accommodations, but for New Orleans we stayed right in the French Quarter at The Chateau Hotel I’m happy to report that you can stay there today if you want to.  I confess I was thrilled, just by the mere fact that it wasn’t our usual roadside motel.  It was an honest to goodness hotel right in the middle of everything.

I remember entering our room and walking right to the windows to look out at the French Quarter.  It was exhilarating to see something besides a freeway.  Our first night in town we had to grab a quick bite and get back to the hotel in time for my parents to see the infamous news conference featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation.

In addition to being right in the middle of the French Quarter, The Chateau Hotel also had an amazing courtyard where breakfast was served each morning.  Those morning meals are among my favorite memories of the trip.  I am devoted to al fresco dining and for all I know, this is where my passion for it originated.

The French Quarter

Once breakfast was over, Mom had our itinerary all planned out.  We set out on foot to see the sights.  The tour started at Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.  Beignets at Cafe du Monde were de rigueur, but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better.

I can’t remember all the places Mom dragged us to over the next few days, but I can tell you that we ate dinner at Brennan’s, another treat you can still enjoy.  Supposedly, according to tradition, breakfast is the meal you are really supposed to eat at Brennan’s, but for my mom, having dinner there was just the bomb.  Dad had to put on a suit and tie.  Mom and Aunt Edie wore maxi-skirts, all the rage at the time.  There is no pictorial record of what Susan and I wore, but I do remember the meal.

I chose Chicken Madeira as my entree.  I was very impressed with myself, because it had a wine sauce.  Being a Baptist, my mom didn’t cook with wine, so at the time I didn’t realize the alcohol always cooked out.  I thought I was being a bit naughty.  Mom and Dad were afraid I wouldn’t like it and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about it, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

For dessert, I had their famous pecan pie.  I’ll confess something else.  I’d take my little sister’s pecan pie over their’s any day of the week, but at the time, she wasn’t baking any pies.  Still, I remember being under-impressed.  Brennan’s hadn’t been a big hit with me.

With my dessert, I had coffee and I’d never had coffee before.  I’d been away at school and could have had coffee with every meal, even though my parents had never offered me any.  I just wasn’t interested.  At Brennan’s the waiter convinced me I couldn’t leave their restaurant without having some of their famous chicory coffee.  So, my first taste of coffee was a baptism by bitterness.  I still don’t drink coffee.

So that was my family vacation to New Orleans.  I’ve been several times since.  My favorite New Orleans cuisine is a toss up between a big ole bowl of BBQ Shrimp or a Muffalatta sandwich from a storefront my friend Michael took me to.  I know I’d rather eat BBQ Shrimp than anything Brennan’s has on the menu.  And speaking of Brennan’s, if you have to choose between Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, I’d vote for Commander’s Palace.  New Orleans really is a culinary treat, but I wouldn’t have known it from that 1974 visit.

The next page in my scrapbook says I am Biloxi Bound, so I hope you’ll join me next week for a little Gulf Shore fun.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Evangeline in Louisiana

TRAVEL BUG TALES: CRAWDADS AND ACADIANS

“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late.  It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics.  In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish.  Let’s go visit.

Traveling Evangeline Country

Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon.  We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM.  By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.

We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was.  They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans.  The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning!  There was also a lot of material about Acadian history.  They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t.  Cajuns descended from the Acadians.  Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans.  Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.

Ça C’est Bon

Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat.  That evening we ate the local cuisine.  Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish.  I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.

Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place.  The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else.  I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me.  I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way.  I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees.  I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.

We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  That’s where we usually stayed.  The next day we moved on to New Orleans.