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

Casino Night in Freeport

TRAVEL BUG TALES: PUTTING ON THE RITZ

It’s at least a little ironic I’m going down memory lane at one resort on Mondays and sharing my latest trip to another resort on Wednesdays.  While Club Med Punta Cana is on the other end of the quality scale from Jack Tar’s Grand Bahama Hotel, I’m exactly the same person.  I’m just not much of a relaxer.  I completely failed at relaxing on the beach.  Let’s see how I do at a casino.

Primping for Our Big Night

Gambling was completely new to me.  I grew up Baptist and Baptists don’t gamble.  Well, I’ve heard my mom loved slot machines.  Let’s just say I had never gambled.

When we got back to our rooms after a day in the sun, it was time to get all fixed up for our big night.  That’s why tanning had been such an important activity for the rest of my friends.  Women in evening gowns.  Men in tuxes.  Fortunes won.  Fortunes lost.  Every hair had to be in place.  I’ll admit it was a little frenetic and I tried very hard to plug into the energy source.

As you can see in the photo, my spot by the pool without baby oil, rendered me just about the same shade of brown as the other ladies.  With my uber short hair I had less to worry about while getting ready.  My mom, the slot machine queen, gave me a roll of quarters to play the slots with.  I slipped them into my little evening bag with great anticipation.

Frolicking in Freeport

Then we boarded the bus for Freeport.  How very touristy of us!  The bus dropped us off on the side of the casino, allowing us to stroll to the door and pretend we did this all the time.  Since nothing is scarier than a clump of women desperately looking for a good time, my friends and I headed off to try our fortunes at the tables, but I assure you, we weren’t the least bit interested in winning any money.

My first stop was the slot machines.  I did pretty well to begin with.  I more than doubled my roll of quarters, but almost as quickly I was empty-handed.  I figured out, Baptist or not, gambling was not my thing.  It felt like I had just taken a perfectly good pair of shoes and tossed them in to the traffic.  Next time someone gave me a roll of quarters, I was going to do something better than lose them in a slot machine.

My winning and losing had taken what?  About 15-20 minutes.  Now what was I going to do with myself during the hours I was stuck there at the casino.  While I have no trouble being the life of a party where I know a lot of people, throw me in a room with a bunch of strangers and I want to find someplace to hide.  Instead I looked for places to lounge while trying to pretend I was cool.

Just like at the beach earlier in the day I had the sense that I should be enjoying myself, but I wasn’t.  In my many strolls through the casino between lounging sessions, I’d see my friends, ordering a drink, playing a game or chatting with someone.  Meanwhile, I was just trying to look cool rather than desperate.

Eventually the bus did return and I got to quit working so hard at having fun.  Everyone had stories to tell and I was able to just oooh and aaaah.  When they turned to me for my report, I laughed about how much money I’d had in my possession for such a short period of time.  When they wanted other details, I said I’d spent my time people watching.  It was true.  I’d spent my time watching everyone else have a lot more fun than me and wondered what kind of disease I had that was keeping me from properly enjoying this vacation.

So far, the best part of the trip had been dancing at the local club and reading by the pool hadn’t been so bad.  Up next was a shopping trip.  Now that’s my kind of activity.  Come back next week and see how I do.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

Let Club Med Punta Cana Entertain You

Cirque du Soleil

TRAVEL THERE: ENJOYING THE EVENING PERFORMANCES

If you were looking for it, there was always something to do at Club Med.  As I said earlier, live music entertained the guests in the Cielo Bar before dinner.  After dinner there would be more live music, often from a different band.  And so it would go into the the wee hours of the morning, but we can’t tell you much about that, because we usually turned in after the evening show.

Not Broadway, But Not Bad

Perhaps you read some of my reviews of our recent Royal Caribbean cruise which included scathing remarks about the on board talent, or lack of it.  At Club Med, the performers weren’t pros (with a few exceptions) and they didn’t try to pretend they were, but the entertainment was completely enjoyable.  Most evenings, some time in between the end of dinner and the beginning of the hard core partying, there would be entertainment.  We found it quite fun.

Michael Jackson Tribute

Our first night featured a tribute to Michael Jackson.  A professional performer danced to familiar Jackson tunes and he was accompanied by a cast comprised of Club Med staffers – known as GO’s (Gracious Organizers).  We discovered a large number of the GO’s are interns on a stipend.  Pretty much slave cheap labor, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The pro had the right build to play MJ and had someone doing great make-up.  His wardrobe was very convincing and so was his dancing.  While I can’t say it was just like watching MJ himself, it was high-energy, fun and entertaining.

After the MJ tribute there was something very familiar – an introduction to the staff.  I felt like I was on a cruise – but without the trays of champagne.  The intro went overly long I thought, but the Chef du Village (the guy in charge of Club Med Punta Cana) was embarrassing people who left early, so we sat in our seat until he was through.

Balloon Party

Creactive Demo

Creactive is the name of the Cirque du Soleil (CDS) trapeze training school at Club Med Punta Cana.  There guests can pretend they’ve run away and joined the circus.  Bill wasn’t the least bit interested in taking a high-flying class and I’m a little acrophobic, so we didn’t take advantage of Creactive at all – except for the show they put on one evening.

The show was great.  Performers, alone and in pairs, put themselves through their paces high in the sky.  If you’ve ever been to a CDS show or seen one on TV I don’t have to tell you of the aerial feats of skill and awe they performed.  However, it was also different from the usual performance.

There was no plot or theme and I missed it.  I love the crazy costumes and surreal stories featured in the CDS shows I’ve seen previously.  There was also none of the floor acrobatics, juggling and magic that make a CDS show so fantastic.  As I said, it was a great show and this isn’t meant as criticism, just a warning about what to and not to expect.

After the show, there was a Balloon Party in the Rondele, a circular patio next to the Cielo Bar. Whatever they called a party at Club Med, it contained a lot of singing and swaying.  There’s a song they sang all the time that started out “alle’ alle'” and included hand signals that everyone seemed to know – but us.  It was called the Crazy Dance and they gave Crazy Dance lessons every day, but since I don’t know my right from my left, I stayed away.  This was the Balloon Party, because they dropped balloons on the crowd.  The White Party was white, because they dropped white confetti on you.  The Red Party was red because…well you get the idea.

The Brazil Show

Another evening we were entertained with a show featuring Brazilian music and dance.  As far as I could tell, there were no professional performers for this one, just jiggling GO’s giving it their all in skimpy costumes.  I’m not complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

Then out came the Chef du Village (CDV).  This guy really needs his own TV show.  I don’t think the stage at Club Med is big enough for him.  He had on a knock-out Carnivale costume and performed some “magic” that were actually gags, which poked fun at his victim, but entertained the audience.

From Carnivale, the CDV moved on to world peace.  (See I told you his stage was too small.)  He recognized all the countries represented by staff and then moved on to the audience to see how many other countries were represented.  Then we all sang, “We Are the World.”

No Dominican Show 

We were disappointed on our final day that there was no show.  It was supposed to feature the Dominican culture, which I would have enjoyed.  The show had been on the schedule I took a picture of that first day.  The show was on the schedule I picked up in the lobby.  However, the schedule at the Cielo had been changed somewhere along the way and the Dominican show had disappeared.  The only people to show up were Bill and I and one other group.  There’s being prepared and being over-prepared.  I think I was over-prepared – as if that’s a surprise.

Sometimes after the show we would head over to Cielo to check out the action, but usually we were worn out by so much relaxation, so we’d head to the room.  Come back next week and I will tell you about our accommodations – and as always, thank you CTC Travel.

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, 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, 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.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

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.