Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ft. Pickens at the Gulf Shores Nat'l Seashore, Pensacola FL

Our last stop before heading on home was 3 nights at Ft. Pickens in Pensacola, FL. What an awesome place! From Pensacola Beach, it's a nine mile drive down a 2 lane street with awesome white sand on both sides and the bluest, greenest water imaginable! The campground was well kept and quiet...except for the Blue Angels practicing every morning at 8:30...I loved it! Ed slept through it! After we set up, we took a walk along the beach...I don't think I've ever seen such soft, white sand! And the water was amazingly warm! The first morning, we woke up to the Blue Angels flying of course, I ran outside with the camara. I should mention that photography is not one of my better talents. After several pictures, I gave up and took a few videos...much better! See a sample at the end of this blog! After breakfast, we hiked over to Ft. Pickens and took a self-guided tour of the fort...very interesting! It's named after the American Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens. The fort was completed in 1834 and remained in use until 1947. Here's a link for a little history of the fort: After our tour, we walked back to the RV along the bay side. We had a very relaxing day and evening...gearing up for a busy next day! The next morning, we were again serenaded by the Blue Angels...I never tire of watching them! Then we decided to head to the National Naval Aviation Museum, which is located at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. We could've spent 3 days visiting the place, but we had only a few hours so we took a trolley ride around the outside of the museum, with a very knowledgable guide, and then spent the remaining few hours browsing around the displays inside. On our way back to the RV we stopped at McGuire's Irish Pub where Ed had the largest Reuben he'd ever seen and I had a steak burger smothered with grilled vidalia onions...yumm! Ft. Pickens is definitely a must-see and we will be adding it to our regular stops to and from Texas!

Biloxi, MS

From New Orleans, we headed to Biloxi, Mississippi... only about 80 miles SE of NO. We had to stay over in Mississippi because we had mark this state on our map... :-) so we picked Biloxi because it's right on the Gulf. We stayed at a very nice RV park called the Majestic Oaks RV Park. It was very close to the water so we took a drive along the coast...beautiful beaches! There are several casinos in Biloxi, so we had to stop at the Hard Rock Casino...I went in with $20 and came out with $40...not bad! Ed won 50 cents! After our splurge at the casino, we took pictures of the sculptures that were carved out of the trees that were ravaged by Katrina...beautiful! We found a great little restaurant along the coast for dinner and then headed back to the RV for a good night's sleep before we headed out again in the morning.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Orleans...

After Palacios, we headed to New Orleans and stayed for 3 nights in Slidell at the New Orleans East Campground. We didn't realize it, but we discovered that the NO French Quarter Festival was going on, beginning the Thursday we arrived (we arrived Wed night)...what a stroke of luck! So Thursday we headed down to the French Quarter...first stop was the Cafe du Monde for a taste of their famous beignets and chicory coffee...yumm! I loved it so much that we went back the next day! I digress...after our beignets we decided to spend the day walking around the festival, which consisted of various artists with their art lined all along the streets and all kinds of musicians, both singular and bands, performing at stages set up all over the French Quarter. So we listened to amazing jazz all day...for free! The streets were packed with people...what a great way to spend the day! We managed to visit Bourbon Street and people-watch too.

One of our stops included a visit to the St. Louis's origin dates back to 1727. Here's a link for more info on the cathedral: I can't do it justice by giving a history lesson. It's a gorgeous cathedral, which sustained some damage during Hurricane Katrina. The guide in the cathedral told us that the organ, which was originally purchased for 1.5 mil, took 3 years and $750,000 to repair after the hurricane.

For lunch/dinner we found Dragos at the Hilton and Ed had the best charbroiled oysters he's ever tasted while I had a fabulous shrimp pasta dish. After our late lunch, we finished our day by strolling on the riverwalk, which was also alive with bands and food and art!

Our second day was spent mostly taking a buggy ride through the French Quarter as well as the St. Louis Cemetary #1. Our guide told us that because NO is built on swamp land, the people discovered that bodies that were buried underground eventually came to the surface. So they decided to bore holes in the coffins to keep them from floating up...but discovered that the odors from the decomposed bodies rose to the surface. Their solution was to bury the bodies in vaults above the ground. Most families were buried in one vault, because the vaults could fit 100s or 1000s of decomposed bodies.

After the buggie ride, we stopped at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street, which was converted to a pub several decades ago, and is a favorite of the locals. From there we had dinner at Sammy's, another restaurant on Bourbon was delicious!

We had been very excited about visiting New Orleans and it surpassed our expectations! We will definitely make this a stop on our future treks to Texas.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Time to head home from Harlingen, TX

Well, today we began our trip home after 5 beautiful months in Harlingen. We had such a great time that we've decided to return in November 2012!

The first pics are of our last party at Tropic was sunny and hot and there was a ton of food and drink! We'll miss all of our new friends, especially Eldon and Betty, and John and Gloria! We'll also miss Dave and Louise, who we met at yoga and spent some very pleasant evenings enjoying dinner with them! Hopefully, we'll see all of them when we return!

Our first stop on our trek home is in Palacios, TX...a small coastal town about 240 miles north of Harlingen. We picked this place because we had to take back roads to get there, so we could see a little more of the countryside and the RV park had rave reviews. It's called Serendipity and it's nestled in between several shrimping companies. It should be fun watching all of the shrimp boats head out to sea tomorrow morning and return tomorrow night! One of our tasks tomorrow will be to buy some oysters and freeze them so we can have them when we get back to CT...yumm!! Tonight we went to a small Mexican restaurant that had fried shrimp and oysters...they came highly recommended by the managers at Serendipity...and they were right...the oysters and shrimp were delicious!

Palacios is a very quiet little town, which is fine with us because tonight is the women's Final Four basketball game and tomorrow night is the men's Championship we're not planning on going out on the town anyway! Go UConn!! In between games tomorrow, we're going to walk the 3-mile boardwalk along the bay and maybe we'll even take Emma!

We leave here on Tuesday and will stop at a Flying J for the night. From there we'll head to New Orleans for 3 days...can't wait!

More later!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Progresso, Iwo Jima, and Borderfest

It's time to update this blog with our latest excursions...

Ever since we arrived in Harlingen, we've been debating whether or not to go into Mexico. Most of the border cities, including Matamoros and Reynosa, are definitely off limits, due to constant extreme violence over drugs. But Progresso is a little town that caters to Winter Texans; it's a town that you park your car on the Texas side and walk over. This relieves alot of the danger, due to the fact that drug cartels seem to be interested in hijacking tourists' cars. We've been hearing pros and cons since we arrived and finally decided to go when we were invited to go with another couple at our RV park. Eldon and Betty have been going to a dentist in Progresso for many years, as did Betty's parents before them...and Eldon was having some dental work done that required several trips to Progresso. Ed had a chipped tooth so we decided to see if this dentist could fix it.
Well, we had a great time! First stop was breakfast consisting of a huge cinnamon roll, scrambled eggs, and sausage...yumm! Then we headed over to the dentist was only about 9:00am so Eldon wanted to see if he could get right in instead of waiting for his 1:00 appt. Thankfully, he saw both Eldon and Ed right away so after about an hour we were ready to shop and sightsee! I had brought a prescription with me to get a generic refill, but they only had the brand name and it wasn't any cheaper than in the states.

By 10:00, the sidewalks were jammed with vendors and winter Texans and it was fun browsing through all of the booths and shops. There is one main road that is connected to the border bridge and tourists do NOT stray off of this're pretty safe if you stick to this. It's a little scary when we crossed over to the Mexican side of the bridge (which is a beautiful bridge, by the way!)...all of the border police are heavily armed and there are two police (one on each side of the road on the Mexican side) who 'hide' behind camaflauge. Coming back into Texas requires a passport, but there was no line and it was a painless procedure.
I don't think we'll go into Progresso again, but it was well worth the trip!

Our next excursion was a local trip to the Iwo Jima monument and the Harlingen Museum. We've been here for 4 months and we're just now getting around to visiting these two very interesting sites.

The Iwo Jima monument is at the entrance to the Military Marine Academy, which is a private college prep school for 8th through 12th grades. Felix DeWeldon, a sculpter, created the monument after seeing the original photo of the five soldiers raising the flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. It was used as the cast for the monument that now resides in Washington, DC and was then stored until 1980, when it was sent to Harlingen to be placed at the entrance of the MMA. The man at the front of flag who was placing the pole into the ground was Harlon Block, from Weslaco, TX...not more than 20 miles from Harlingen. Six days after they raised the flag he was killed in action and was buried at Iwo Jima. In 1995, his remains were relocated to Harlingen and he now resides at the Iwo Jima monument.
While visiting the monument, we toured the adjacent museum, which was chock full of interesting information about Iwo Jima specifically and WWII in general. We viewed a very interesting 30 minute video about the battle at Iwo Jima. This was a great visit!

From there, we headed a mile down the road to the Harlingen Museum and learned a little more about the history of Harlingen. It's founder was Lon C. Hill, who in 1904 built the first house in Harlingen. His house, as well as the first post office (1905), the first hospital (1923), and the Stagecoach Inn are open for visitors to walk through...very interesting! The museum currently has a quilt exhibit consisting of award-winning quilts borrowed from the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. This year's theme is sunflowers and the quilts are amazing!
It was a great day filled with interesting information about the town of Harlingen and surrounding areas.

Our last entry in today's blog is about our trip to Borderfest in Hidalgo, TX last Sunday. It's an annual local festival that lasts from Thursday through Sunday. This year's theme was Hawaiian and it was alot of fun! Hidalgo is about 45 miles from Harlingen, but the Borderfest was worth the drive. Events this year included a Janet Jackson concert in the State Farm Arena, a parade every night, and numerous bands and events performing under various tents located throughout the festival. There was also a carnival as well as a large food court and a crafts tent. Our yoga instructor, Sandra, had a booth in the crafts tent and she gave me my first henna tattoo...a beautiful butterfly! Our highlight was watching Charo perform! She's a great singer, comedienne and stage performer and we thoroughly enjoyed the performance!
That's all for now! We'll be leaving here around April 6 and heading to New Orleans for a few days and then on to NC, VA and home...we'll keep ya posted!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hangin' in Harlingen...continued

Thought I'd update our blog with some of the activities we've done since January...

One of our trips was to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is located on the gulf of Texas, East of Rio Hondo, and is home to 413 species of animals, including 11 federally listed endangered or threatened species. These species include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Our plan was to take the tram on the Bayside Drive, but when we got there we discovered that the tram doesn't run on the day we were there. We quickly rebounded and decided to drive Bayside Drive ourselves...a good decision! The drive is a 15 mile loop with numerous pull-outs where you can observe the wildlife and soak in the peace and quiet of the refuge. It took us about 3 hours to finish the loop and it was a thoroughly enjoyable drive!

One day we decided to head to Mission, TX to their Citrus Fiesta...just a way to get out and explore! Well, we discovered that the Citrus Fiesta was mainly for kids...there was a carnival and a parade. We got there at around 12:00 and the parade wasn't going to take place until 4:00. We weren't interested in staying, so we headed back the way we came and stopped at an interesting farmer's market. We're used to seeing lots of booths with odds and ends, but this market was mainly booths with chickens and goats and dogs and cows for sale, as well as bales of hay and veggies. We didn't stay long...I didn't like seeing the animals packed into cages...but we had to remember that this is a different culture than ours and this is how things are done.

As February approached, we decided to take Emma to the beach...she loves running in the sand and she's been very well behaved and deserved a treat! So we headed to South Padre Island, not only to hit the beach but to check out two RV parks on the island. It was a cloudy and foggy day, but that was not a bad thing. The main portion of the island is very touristy, and it was here that we found the KOA RV Park and the Isla Blanca Park...both parks are on the southern tip of the island. After touring both, we decided that we would definitely be interested in staying at the Isla Blanca Park when we return to Texas in a couple of years! From there, we drove north on Rte 100 until we were away from the crowds and found a beach where we could run Emma. Technically, dogs are supposed to be on a leash, but there are so few people in the area that we allowed her to run along the ocean. After she exhausted herself, we drove down to the end of Rte 100...due to the constant high winds, the road gets hammered by the sand dunes, so there are plows constantly moving the sands off of the road.

This past week was abnormally cold for southern Texas. We've had to keep the water dripping in the faucets to prevent freezing the pipes and the temps have dropped below freezing, into the teens. Two nights ago we even had a major ice storm! If you could get past the freezing cold (the wind is brutal here!), the scenery was beautiful! Since southern Texans aren't used to driving in this weather, we decided to hibernate for two days and not venture out on the roads. In all fairness to Texans, nobody is good at driving on black ice! And thankfully, today is warming up into the 50s and tomorrow will be back into the 70s!

We're here for another 2 months, so I'll be updating again!