Category Archives: North America

Seattle (old notes)

For some years before I started a blog, I took notes on trips.  Sometimes friends ask for these notes to help with trip planning.  To organize everything in one place, I’m adding my old trip notes to my blog.  These were written shorthand and probably not too enjoyable to read but hopefully useful to plan a trip.

I do not have access while traveling to my old photos, but I think through the link below you can see Jenni’s Facebook album from this trip even if you do not have a Facebook account.

We visited Seatlle July 1-5, 2010 and had a great time.  The weather wasn’t so good but the food was outstanding, and Olympic National Park was beautiful.

7/1 – arrive around 9 pm, maybe 15-20 min drive in to city, no traffic; check in to Hotel Andra, then had drink each and split lamb carpaccio at Dahlia Lounge across way, was delish.

7/2 – went to pike place around 8:30 am then had brunch at cafe campagne which was pretty good and then we went back to the market.  After, we went to the Seattle Art Museum which was pretty cool with Cobain exhibit and some sculpture and Warhol exhibit…not a lot of big name artists that I saw.  Left there maybe 1:30 pm or so and walked down to pioneer square and to Salumi (Mario Batali’s family place) with 30 min wait but worth it…we split grilled copa with fontina and hot peppers and agrumi salami which has cardamom.  Then we walked to little park with waterfall in it and back through Pioneer Square and to Purple Café and wine bar where we each got a flight of WA white wines which were not very good ( purple has high ceiling, great menu) then W for drinks and then Zoe for dinner. Was very solid, lots of food and two drinks each (no dessert) for $128 all in. Walked few blocks back through Belltown and seems cool.

7/3 – woke about 6:30 and got to ferry about 7:15 got sandwiches and coffee there, plenty of time for 7:55 ferry to Bainbridge. Cold. 35 min ride then drive across island and over to 101 to Olympic National Park. Go to hurricane ridge about 17 miles in from hwy. Cloudy but clear at times. At top we parked the car around 5200′ and see lots of snow covered mtns across valley. Beautiful. Hike hurricane hill 1.6 miles each way and about 650’ gain. Saw little birds, black tail deer, marmot, goat, black bear in distance, chipmunks. Very pretty spot, chilly but fine when working. Drove back down and headed west again on 101 few minutes to lunch at kokopelli in port angeles . Had Dungeness crab (seems to be from here, crossed Dungeness river) club sandwiches with fries. Drove 101W another 20-30 minutes to lake crescent but pressed for time seemed so just couple pics then about 2+ hour drive back to Bainbridge. Olympic park and peninsula very green and reminiscent to me of Maine or Vermont and of course much lusher than SoCal. Got on 5:30 pm ferry back to Seattle (was about $14 while morning was $21) and nice and sunny but still cold on deck. Water kind of brown, see lots of jellies in the ocean.  That night we had a 8:30 reservation at Crush restaurant in Madison Valley .  I heard about it b/c believe Jason Wilson is the chef and he won a James Beard award.  We got the 6 course tasting menu with paired wines.

Salmon roe with bacon whipped creme fraiche with parsnip base and maple syrup; hamachi crudo with meyer lemon and mint; tagliatelle with morels, peas, truffle and parm; sparkling loire; Italian pinot grigio; chardonnay; salmon with peas etc oregon dundee hills pinot; split foie with cherries and almond financier with muscat; orange and yeast sorbet palate cleanse; cabernet with short rib; port for me and mousse with peanut and some ice cream and j had pinot gris and blueberry thing with mascarpone ice cream. So full and tired!

In Madison Valley area, pretty hilly around there. Reminds of Cambridge . Crush in a little house with wood floors, enter and there’s host stand and some stairs and to right is bar with about 8 seats and open kitchen and a few tables or to left is little room with big window and seating for about 16. J and I had four top, she on bench side and I in a low plastic mod white chair. Service quite good and food great. All in was $394 and about 2.5 hours. Planned to go out but too full and tired.  Excellent meal and worth it.

7/4 – Slept in and drove down and over West Seattle bridge to Salty’s on Alki Beach . Big place and way crowded. All you can eat brunch with crab legs, shrimp, oysters, omelets, mac n cheese, smoked salmon hash, chocolate fountain, waffles, dessert, bloody mary bar, etc. $40++ each. Awesome. Big windows with views of bay and city. Stuffed we drove up to Green Lake . No traffic ever and get around quickly and parking easy. Walked 2.8 miles round lake with lots of peeps and dogs and bikes etc and little pitch n putt course. Drove back to hotel.

Relax in room then down to lobby for comfy chairs in front of window looking on 4th ave with NY times. Hip but cozy lobby with good music. Got glasses of wine. Then ate at Lola which is another Tom Douglas spot in our hotel. Greek, had few apps. Tasty. The man has great menus. Took carafes of house red up to our room and watched fireworks on TV. Yeah, it’s true. Seattle almost canceled all due to budget but had biz sponsor I guess and only did em on Lake Union .

7/5 – morning went back to pike place and pastries and lattes at le panier. Jenni bought a little purse thing for phone etc while biking. We got dungeness crab rolls to go and clam chowder to split at pike place chowder. The chowder was great, the crab rolls OK (too much bread). Walked up 1st Ave to Broad and then went to experience music project at seattle center. Pretty cool, had hendrix exhibit and room where hear artists etc talk and then mary wilson of the supremes dress display and section with lots of rooms where can play instruments etc. Then walked up queen anne rd (fairly steep hill) and over on highland to kerry park with views of city and ate our crab rolls. Weather overcast again so see downtown and bay but never saw mt rainier at all. The area at queen anne and mercer had some cool looking shops/bars and 1st ave in Belltown has a bunch of bars and food etc.

Hotel location was great, think you want to be around there and pike place. Lobby nice and restaurant good, guess worth the $ but of course could go cheaper. Food in city was great..

On plane ride home saw Mt Rainier and several snow capped mtns to the West. Didn’t realize so many. Also interesting how in Olympic there are so many snow capped mtns and even on our hike there was snow in several places on the trail, at just 5500′ or so elevation and in July. Off our trail there were some long hikes with several thousand verts down then back up but some hard to do because of snow.

Going Home!

We left White Sands National Monument and passed the sharp, dramatic Organ Mountains.  In this area the traffic lights are all horizontal, I guess due to the wind?

Tucson is backed by nice mountains and here we saw our first In-N-Out since leaving California nearly three months ago.  Despite the temptation, we held out for our traditional coming home meal.  La Quinta hotel in Phoenix was a splurge that even had internal hallways!

Friday was the last day of the trip and the excitement was palpable.  Will we make it all the way back with no accidents or traffic tickets?!  In Phoenix we saw our first signs for Los Angeles, confirming the final stretch.  Jenni did a great job deejaying several California-themed songs…of course starting with Biggie’s Going Back to Cali and followed by tunes like Phantom Planet’s California, California Love by 2Pac, Hotel California, etc.

Much of the drive between Phoenix and Palm Springs is very pretty, and south of the 10 near Tonopah is a nice mountain.  I have driven to the Palm Springs area many times but never approached from this direction.  We descended quite a hill down to Indio.

We made it back to Los Angeles at 1 pm, having driven just under 12k miles.  And it was literally 75 and sunny.  We closed with a bottle of Moët, just as we began our first night camping at San Simeon.  For some fun stats summarizing our three-month road trip, see the post here that we wrote at that time.

November 8, 2013 (Friday)

White Sands National Monument

This is a magical place in southeast New Mexico where gypsum dunes backed by southwestern-looking mountains give an otherworldly feel.

After Carlsbad and Guadalupe earlier in the day we skirted El Paso and then drove north on highway 54 with good mountain views.  There are various military installations around here, including the White Sands Missile Testing Area which forces the closure of the Monument and roads periodically, so be sure to investigate.

I was shocked when we had to pass through a border patrol road block.  I never realized I could be stopped and my car searched when I was not trying to cross the border.  We encountered this again on the 10 Freeway driving back to Los Angeles.  Each time, the officers looked at us, asked if we are US citizens and then said go ahead.  I have often lamented my pale skin because I cannot blend in as much while traveling.  Some have that “Mediterranean” look where they might be from South America or Europe or the Middle East…not me.  But at these border patrol stops I was mighty happy to be pale whitey.

Visitors to White Sands usually stay in Las Cruces or Alamogordo, we chose the latter which is closer to the Monument.  It is packed with chains.  Our Days Inn was another hotel lacking internal hallways, and had some pretty shady characters with bloodshot eyes hanging about.  Nobody showed any disrespect, and I admired Jenni for being willing to stay places like this with no complaints.

Thursday was another cool, crystal clear day.  Shortly after leaving the hotel we passed a sign warning not to pick up hitchhikers because there are detention facilities in the area.  Jenni wanted to try anyway but I held firm.  We stopped in at the visitor center for information and a great orientation video.

These are the largest gypsum dunes in the world.  Some of the nearby mountains are rich in gypsum and the rain and snow melt dissolves it into water that flows into this basin which creates a lake.  The water then evaporates leaving behind big, soft crystals which the wind scatters and breaks down until it is fine, powdery gypsum.

In the desert there is much fascinating flora and fauna, often not visible to the casual observer.  For instance, the video told us that after rains brine shrimp can emerge and lay eggs which might lie dormant as long as 100 years before hatching with new water.

Jenni was thrilled at the opportunity to sled on the dunes so we bought a sled at the gift shop and a little wax.  Even though it was 45 degrees out we just had to drop Sven’s top.  It feels like a winter wonderland, with the paved road turning to sand necessitating plows.  It took great restraint not to pull an EB in the wide-open parking lots.

We walked in a bit on the Alkali Flats Trail for some sledding and ski-jump practice.  Jenni was giddy.  Then over at the backcountry camping parking area we walked up on the dunes and Jenni found a million dollar bill plastered with Jesus praise.  Odd, we thought.  Then we saw an older man with a camel, a pair of dogs and some film makers.

It turns out he spreads the million dollar bills all around and they were making some kind of documentary.  I find it a little strange to both proselytize and litter in a national monument, but what do I know.

If you get the chance, I recommend spending at least a couple hours in this unique and stunning environment.

Practical Info

The Days Inn at Alamogordo was fine but a little dodgy.  There are nicer hotels up the road.  If you are coming from the west, you would probably want to stay at Las Cruces.

The sled at the visitor center cost $17 and then you can return it for $5 back.  The refund is priced brilliantly, just like wedding rentals.  Ranger-led walks take place around sunset but we were long gone before then.

Entrance to the dunes is $3/person and our National Parks pass worked.  Of course you should bring water, sunglasses and perhaps a compass if you want to get too far off the road.

November 6-7, 2013 (Wednesday-Thursday)

Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and West Texas

Carlsbad Caverns are most impressive with a many-football-fields size huge space loaded with eerie stalactites, stalagmites and other formations 750 feet below the earth’s surface.  It is hard not to use the word “cavernous” when describing the features!  Guadalupe Mountains National Park is beautiful and home to the highest point in Texas at…8,750’!!  Had you asked me before this trip to guess Texas’ max elevation, I would have aimed far lower.

On the drive from Austin we passed a handful of wineries before Fredericksburg and saw many signs for peaches.  Fredericksburg itself had a nice-looking Main Street where I grabbed tasty iced coffee at Java Ranch.  That was about as exciting as it got.  There is hardly anything from here to Fort Stockton where we got gas, after which we passed Pecos which lays claim to the first rodeo.  This is oil and gas territory and we saw countless rigs lit up at night.

Route 720 connecting over to the National Parks Highway was a little gnarly at night but we made it safely to our hotel located at the turnoff to Carlsbad Caverns, and picked up an hour on the time change.

We awoke Wednesday to clear skies and crisp 40-something degree air.  The Caverns visitor center is seven miles up a winding road.  Various tours (in the main caverns and further afield) are offered but we decided to take the elevator 750 feet down for a self-guided walk around the Big Room.

The formations and general enormity are really something.  The temperature down there is in the mid 50s all year long.  I think the loop is about 1.25 miles which we leisurely completed in about an hour and quarter.  To see more and sweat a bit we walked back up which took 35 minutes.

One of the special attractions are the Mexican free-tail bats that swarm out of the cave at sunset to hunt for insects etc.  We heard they can consume half their body weight in a single night!  Sadly we just missed them as they are usually present only from March to October.  It might be worth scheduling your trip during these months to catch this spectacle.

While there are some other activities, it seems to me that one day at the Caverns would be sufficient.  MAKE SURE you have enough gas and water because we passed a sign stating it would be 130 miles until the next available services.

We continued down the road to Guadalupe National Park.  There are a few different entrances and areas with different features; we struggled between McKittrick or Dog Canyons.  The canyons are known for foliage around this time.  In the end, we kept it simple and went to the main entrance at Pine Springs.  Were it earlier in the day we would have tried to hike to the top of Gaudalupe Peak, but it gets dark out pretty early so instead we took the trail part of the way to a lovely view point and then headed back.

We passed a few people on the trail in the span of a couple hours…a delightful experience!  Air pollution is often a problem in the summer but we had clear views with 60 degrees and a nice breeze.  These mountains long ago were a marine reef when the area was an inland sea.

Our drive from here was beautiful and really felt like the middle of nowhere.  Doing 85 with the top down through the high desert listening to Marriage Of Figaro was sublime.

We skirted El Paso as we were heading back north to stay in Alamogordo before visiting White Sands National Monument.  I think we did not miss much and that El Paso is probably a moderately scary place.  At the gas station I had to lift a plastic cover to access the credit card slot, presumably to keep out all the sand and dirt that blows around.

Seeing relatively remote places like Guadalupe and western Texas is one of my favorite things about a round-the-US drive.  Tomorrow it got even better…

Practical Info

We stayed at the Rodeway Inn in Whites City, New Mexico, which seemed to be about the only place really close to the park entrance.  It was adequate, with a large room but poor WiFi.  There are far more options in the town of Carlsbad but that is about 20 miles further away.  Bring supplies or buy them in Carlsbad as services are very sparse in this area.

If we had more time we would have liked to check out Marfa, Texas as well as Big Bend National Park.

November 5-6, 2013 (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Texas: Austin

Drive friendly my arse

Drive friendly my arse

Yes, I am in India right now.  But I must finish my US posts for some peace of mind!

I visited Austin last March for the first time for Josh’s bachelor party and loved it, so I was happy to return for Jenni’s inaugural appearance.  This time was a tad tamer.

We drove straight from New Orleans, and you know Texas is big when the first exit you see on the 10 Freeway is # 878.  Despite the welcome sign suggesting that driving friendly is the Texas way, I would say the drivers on this leg were undoubtedly the most aggressive and consistent left-lane-for-no-reason offenders of our entire road trip.

Our first night we sought a quick bite after a long day and ended up at Surf N’ Turf Po Boy.  It is more of a bar with lots of TVs and Skee-Ball and a lively atmosphere for the Texans MNF game.  They were out of fried oyster and the buffalo shrimp was good but paled in comparison to the firecracker shrimp po boy we had at Parasol’s in New Orleans.

Monday was one of the very few rainy days of our trip so we erased any thoughts of renting bikes.  We crossed under I-35 to the grittier part of town for an excellent, cheap, authentic Mexican breakfast at Juan in a Million.  I got the machacado and the migas breakfast tacos and they were so good.  Chips and salsa at 10 am is a nice touch.

Austin has several pockets of hip and/or fun areas, including dirty 6th, west 6th, east of I-35, 4th street, Rainey, Red River around 7th and South of Congress.  We hit this last one first, parking by Elizabeth to walk around.  It is a great stretch of several blocks with restaurants, bars, funky shops and vintage looking signs.  More in “Practical Info” below.

This is also one of the many Austin neighborhoods with several food trucks.  These are very popular here, and is with Portland they are slightly more permanent vs. those in Los Angeles that actually drive around each day.

From here we passed Hula Hut on the lake, a fun place for beverages on a sunny day, and took Scenic Road near the water through nice neighborhoods.  We parked on Mt. Bonnell Road and ascended the ~100 steps of Covert Park to the highest point in Austin at 775’ elevation.  This spot has nice views of downtown and the river with some spectacular homes.

Covert Park

Covert Park

We continued through the University of Texas campus which is nice if a little more urban than I realized.  Oh, on my last visit I had breakfast at the Torchy’s Tacos by campus and it was awesome.  Though Franklin was on tomorrow’s agenda, I figured why not double up on BBQ so we lunched at Iron Works, which I wrote about here.  On my last visit I ate at the Salt Lick in Round Rock, which was a fun outdoor place that I’d locate behind Franklin and ahead of Iron Works on the spectrum.

Dinner at Chuy’s was better than Hangover 3 on Jenni’s computer.  It has some bright moments but the trilogy’s temporal order certainly matches quality.  At Chuy’s I tried the Texas Martini which is a margarita in a martini glass rimmed with salt and jalapeño stuffed olives.  The meal was solid overall, and when they bring chips to your table be sure to ask for the creamy jalapeño sauce.

After dinner we met Sam’s friend Jamin on Rainey Street, which stands out in a city that oozes cool.  Within a couple blocks are perhaps 10 houses that were converted into bars/restaurants.  Most have substantial outdoor space and there is also a food truck square.  I would be sure to check this out.

Our final day in Austin lasted much longer than expected due to the crazy line at Franklin BBQ, but as I explained in detail in my BBQ Post it was worth it, and then some.

Capitol dome

Capitol dome

Practical Info

Accommodation: We stayed at the Extended Stay Hotel at 6th and Guadalupe because it was reasonably priced and well-located.  The Driskill is a classic property with a fantastic location, and there is also a W.  There are a couple spots on South Congress and I’m not certain which looked interesting, but I think it’s Hotel San Jose.


South of Congress…some food spots that caught our eye include Amy’s Ice Cream and Hopdoddy.  Uncommon Objects has tons of antiques.  The Big Top Candy Shop had a most impressive selection, including things like pimento olive chocolate almonds and gummy fried eggs.  Allens Boots has an astounding selection of cowboy boots and attire.  Nearby is Barton Springs Pool, a very popular natural springs swimming area which wevwould have visited were it not cool and raining.

Rainey…we had drinks at Bar 96.  Kaitlyn had recommend G’raj Mahal food truck, which is so popular that it has now taken over one of the old houses.

Dirty 6th: refers to 6th street east of Congress which is packed with bars and at times nears a Bourbon Street feel.  Though technically east of Congress, the Driskill is a classy hotel with a bar and restaurant.

West 6th: refers to 6th street west of Congress which also has several bars and restaurants but a slightly older and more mellow crowd.  I enjoyed the Rattle Inn on my last visit.

4th Street: also calmer than dirty 6th, on my last visit I liked dinner at Peché and drinks at Hangar Lounge.

November 3-5, 2013 (Sunday-Tuesday)

Louisiana: New Orleans and Swamp Tour

October 30 – November 3, 2013 (Wednesday-Sunday)


French Quarter

Because I am trying to get fully caught up and there is just so much to say about New Orleans, I’m going to do another bullet-point short-form post.  Hopefully Sam and Kaitlyn, our extraordinarily generous hosts for four nights, will take no offense.  If I did a full write-up here, it would be so long as to bore my dear readers.  Even more.

But first, let me remind you that Louisiana is my home state.  I really wanted to see if I could gain access to Barksdale Air Force base and see my Shreveport birth place, but it was far out of the way and time did not permit.

  • Crossing Lake Pontchartrain and seeing the city appear is cool; it is also interesting to watch the hood end and the uber-wealthy Garden District begin so abruptly after crossing St. Charles
  • Parasol’s on Constance was perhaps our favorite meal in a city known for its food; this po’boy place is Sam’s joint. I covered the pulled pork briefly in my BBQ post I think, the gumbo was delicious and the firecracker shrimp was outstanding.  It’s a fun place with a bar on one side and food ordering on the other, lots of beer options.  Oh, of course there is no open container prohibition here (and that is truly a game changer), but I had not considered that you can still smoke cigarettes in bars.  Wow.
  • New Orleans is kind of an “anything goes” town.  It just seems so different from the rest of the country.  So much flavor.  So much good food and music and vivacity.  So many cats and flags and wrought iron and shotgun style homes.  There are not many places you will see a multi-million dollar mansion with a Go [Saints] flag hanging off a balcony.  In the first hour here we saw two cars driving the wrong way down one-way streets.
  • Magazine Street is awesome.  Sam and Kaitlyn live just off this in the Irish Channel and it is a really fun area.  Magazine here has tons of shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.  Sucre has gelato and pastries.  The Bulldog bar was packed.  As were Salu and Rum House.  Magazine also looked nice further uptown, where we got food at Boulangerie to go
  • The homes in the Garden District are stunning.  I think Sandra Bullock and John Goodman have pads here, and probably many other famous peeps.
  • Bourbon Street is a must-see.  During the night it can be fun and in the day too, but it is best for when you are wasted.  For when you are sober during the day, the smell of piss and vomit can be overwhelming.  But the live music compensates a lot.
  • Lunch at Cochon Butcher was great.  The line appeared really long but moved pretty quickly and was well worth the wait.  I got a pork belly on white with cucumbers, mint and chili aïoli. Jenni got a pizzetta with mortadella, mustard greens and Parmesan.  Both were excellent.  The mac and cheese looked gut-busting.  That day we took the trolley home on St. Charles
  • Halloween on Frenchman Street was a highlight of the trip.  What a party.  I grabbed some sort of repairmen costume at the store.  Jenni could not decide so she bought a Justin Bieber wig.  This somehow turned into her being Tami-Lynn, one of the real housewives of Boston.  She got into character and stayed there the rest of the night.  It was epic.  And Frenchman was just silly.  The streets were not closed de jure, but they were de facto.  Dudes would just roll out like six foot long bars and start making cocktails in the middle of the street.
  • On Friday we did a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell.  We were so hurt from Halloween that we could not even call and instead just skipped our 12 pm reservation.  Then we felt a touch better and they let us switch to the 2:45 pm with no questions asked.  Captain Bishop was an able guide.  We were disappointed we did not get to hold a baby alligator as we had heard happens.  Captain said a bunch of stuff, again no fact checking…he said alligators hibernate 4-6 months, I had no idea this happened; they can go two years without eating; bananas on a boat are bad luck; the number of inches from a gator’s eyes to nose roughly equals its length in feet; wild rice grows in the swamp, and it is not technically rice but it grows freely and that is why it’s so popular in Cajun food; we saw wild boars with a raccoon right next to them and saw lots of turtles and some blue herons.  Unless you want a lot of sun, consider requesting a covered coat.  Check out the “Cajun Hottub”, and someone had a sign advising that trespassers will be violated
  • On the drive there we saw next door signs, one said “Hit and Run Liquor” and the other “Chicken and Watermelon”…straight up
  • We hit a newish spot called District twice…once for a Vietnamese coffee donut with tapioca balls and then for dinner where we had great sliders…fried chicken, pork belly, etc.  And I got a croquenut, which was a croque monsieur with donuts as the bread, except they were not sweet so the concept was better than the execution, but it was still just a delicious croque monsieur.  And we got waffle fries with cheese and jalapenos, and a great brown butter and pistachio donut
  • I liked the Saint Arnold Elissa IPA, and that the store where I bought it (after Sam intro’d) is called Breaux Mart
  • Sam told us about bounce music and Big Freedia, and also that Treme is a pretty hot area now, a lot of black activists and artists etc.
  • Saturday was an epic day…
  1. we had brunch at Atchafalaya around the corner from home, with a killer Bloody Mary bar (I vaguely recall there was a green tomatillo juice option and I think Jenni said they should call that the Gangrene Mary) and live music…the bloody bar had a few juice options and I went with the house blend plus a touch of tomatillo juice plus pepper, horse radish, Louisiana hot sauce, mustard, pickled celery and olives and cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and a bunch of bacon bits…boudin cakes are a New Orleans staple and the cream cheese grits were terrific
  2. then walked the loop at Audubon Park where we tossed the disc, saw another public piano and visited the waterfront area (which does not feature as prominently in the public space as it should, and I think they may be trying to change this)…the piano man told us it is being used to help treat PTSD, and the piano had been submerged in Katrina but was restored and painted by YAYA (Young Aspirations / Young Artists)…there are some nice homes right on the park, like directly on it without any separation which I thought uncommon
  3. then to Luke for the first of our John Besch happy hours with oysters and cocktails
  4. then walked through the French Quarter (better than our unguided attempt a couple days earlier where we seemed only to hit the dirty and hoody parts and Louis Armstrong park, though Crazy Corner’s funk/zydeco was nice) where we saw Tanya and Dorise on Royal Street.  They are a pretty famous street-performing duo playing violin and guitar.  They played Out Walking After Midnight, For Once in My Life and You’ve Got a Friend.  Some guy standing next to me was priceless, telling me about how this singer comes by sometimes and sings with the ladies and they tell her to take money from the bucket but she takes just a few bucks for cold beverage (which means soda). And he said the ladies are so good even the bums give em money
  5. then to Domenica for yummy pizzas and wine inside the Roosevelt Hotel which has an opulent art deco lobby
  6. then into Saint hotel which is like Miami meets red
  7. then to Tonique for fancy cocktails and hipsters.  I asked the bartender for some recs on our trip as I guessed correctly she was from Sri Lanka.  She went nuts that I knew this, gave me a free shot and then never any recs.
  8. then to the Byway area for Bachanal with even more hipsters and wine/food…really cool spot, too bad no jazz when we were there but…hosts ran into lots of people they knew…it is a wine shop where you can buy a bottle and drink out back and there is a window where can order food like chicken liver pate and bacon-wrapped dates.  I would be really stoked if Los Angeles had a spot like this.  Maybe I should open one.
  9. then to Frenchman where we entered Cafe Negril for good music…some places have instituted covers and we were being cheap so passed on Spotted Cat even though that music sounded fantastic…oh, at most bars they pass a tip bucket around for the musicians…before leaving we went into Vaso for a proper big brass band, that music style is so fun

    Little market on Frenchman

    Little market on Frenchman

  10. then to Bourbon Street and Pat O’Briens on the piano bar side…the guy sucked but the woman was great and such a fun atmosphere…range from Sweet Caroline to Blurred Lines
  11. then on the way to Cafe du Monde we passed Camelia Grill so popped in for bacon cheeseburgers and they also gave us free fries…I thought the burger was really solid, it had medium girth with great bacon and abundant butter flavor

    Contemplating something at 2 am

    Contemplating something at 2 am

  12. then to Cafe du Monde where sit outside for beignets dipped in decaf cafe au lait…I thought these were more like donuts but they are more like mini fried dough…Kaitlyn was such a trooper and drove the whole night
Cafe du Monde

Cafe du Monde

  • On the 10 West heading out of New Orleans you drive through some swamp and it is pretty cool
  • One night as I tried to fall asleep I heard someone playing the saxophone outside, and this felt like the perfect New Orleans moment.

Florida, Alabama and Mississippi

October 29-30, 2013 (Tuesday-Wednesday)


Sunset from Grand Hotel

Florida and Miss were mainly drive-throughs, but Alabama was an eye-opener.

Leaving Georgia we saw lots of snowbirds with New York and New England plates taking I-95 to Florida.  Then we hit the 10 West, and my appreciation for the interstate highway system grew markedly.  I had never taken serious road trips before, and I was mesmerized by the fact that I was now on the same road that is part of daily life in Los Angeles.

Jenni got excited when we crossed the Suwannee River and put that song on.  I still stayed awake and guided us safely to lunch in Tallahassee at Kool Beanz Cafe on the main drag Monroe.  Breeze and a covered patio felt nice in the 80 and sunny weather.

The Florida State campus looks pretty nice.  It is not as charming as many I have seen, but there are plenty of live oaks with Spanish moss.

We crossed into Alabama and it felt more like Alabama with lots of Baptist churches, pickup trucks, signs for cheap tobacco, cotton fields and a Crimson Tide helmet mailbox.  I think we fit right in blasting Sweet Home Alabama with Sven’s top down.


Figuring we will likely settle back in California and it will be harder to visit this part of the country, we had decided to spend a night by Mobile Bay on the way to New Orleans.  Some towns were mentioned in our 1,000 Places to See book, and I asked Leura for some recs.  She was super helpful and we ended up staying in her hometown.  And this day/night was probably the biggest surprise of the whole road trip.  In a good way.

One of the charming towns is Magnolia Springs, though our first experience here was probably the scariest moment of the trip.  We pulled into Jesse’s Restaurant parking lot and it is hard to explain what happened.  Basically we were parked in a gravel lot next to the street and next to an opening leading to more parking lot.  A car sped in, turned and skidded, then backed up kicking up gravel.  We saw another guy sort of chasing it, and then the driver floored it and started skidding on the gravel towards us.  I sensed the driver was terrified or enraged, or perhaps a combo, and figured it was mainly down to luck whether he hit us or not.  I was not so scared of injury as getting stuck in a repair shop for a few days in Alabama for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was a most narrow escape.

We drove down to the both brackish and spring-fed river and talked to this guy fishing who had a heavy Southern accent.  He was entertaining, talking about fighting a red fish that was 3.5 feet long.  But better tasting are trout or the smaller red fish, about 18-23 inches in length.

Earlier today I teased Jenni for playing Mozart in the Redneck Riviera, then ate my words when we saw a billboard promoting him.  We took Scenic 98 to Point Clear and the bay-side homes were gorgeous with deep properties and big oaks.  The Grand Hotel (a Marriott) is gated but I asked if we could take a look and they were most welcoming.  Not that this was special treatment at all, but I think in the South if you are white and appear to have some money then you can probably do anything you want.  The property was impressive and we caught a phenomenal sunset over the bay.  This place has swinging wooden chairs, hammocks, a nice little beach area, a golf course, etc.  It would make a fine vacation destination.

Lots of people were out walking or jogging and we made a quick stop at the Fairhope pier before parking in town for dinner.  I was rendered speechless by the contrast between my pre-judgments and reality.  I expected Alabama to feel impoverished and unsophisticated, and perhaps a lot of it is.  But you could drop Fairhope in the Hamptons and it would not seem out of place.  There were Range Rovers and Beemers all over the place, and high end shops and nice restaurants.  Camellia Cafe could have been in Carmel.  We had sushi (yup, sushi in Alabama) at Master Joe’s which was great, and we were the worst-dressed patrons.  One of the rolls we got was baked with cheddar.  Cringe ye purists, rejoice ye lovers of isht that tastes good.  I heard this area is increasingly popular with snowbirds.

During breakfast at our hotel.  Pause.  If you are thinking of a proper dining room with an omelet station and ample bacon, think again.  I mean the kind where the check-in area is about 150 square feet and has a few tables, some crappy coffee and a little cereal.  Play.  There was an older couple wearing t-shirts from Newport, Rhode Island and Whitefish, Montana, so it was fun to say we had visited both those spots already on this drive.



We passed through downtown Mobile on the way to the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion.  There were no other patrons so $7.50 (each with AAA) bought us a private tour.  This woman was hilarious.  There might have been 40 seconds during the 40 minutes when she was not talking.  I am not fact-checking any of this so I apologize for errors, but here are some things she said that I found interesting: the pineapple is a sign of hospitality and when soldiers came home from war they would put it out front stuck on a post, so it is a symbol of welcoming guests; there are curved walls near doors so ladies could pass with big dresses; something about newel post at the staircase base where they would put wedding rings and a penny on top because they spent their last cent on the house (??); the columns out front are 26’ high and made of Cypress; this was Judge Bragg’s home just for the social season, which of course is Thanksgiving through Mardi Gras; and Mardi Gras really began in Mobile and not New Orleans; there are beds with posts that rise up from the frame for draping mosquito nets; many weddings are held at the mansion; most houses back in the day did not have closets because these counted as rooms for taxes; Mobile is the city of six flags, starting with the French in 1702.  We did see a police car displaying these, and it was a trip to see a black officer driving a cop car with a confederate flag on it.

After the mansion we went to the Brick Pit, which I covered in my BBQ post.  A couple other things we considered doing in the area were the Oakleigh house, the USS Alabama and Bellingrath Gardens.  We also skipped the multiple bars with signs out front advertising cold beer and free advice, though I confess that is a strong offering.


In Mississippi we made a brief detour to see the alleged world’s largest rocking chair.  Jenni loves this stuff and her fear of heights was drowned by excitement.

Georgia: Savannah and Tybee Island

October 27-29, 2013 (Sunday-Tuesday)


Tybee Island

We drove right past our hotel in Savannah and continued to Tybee Island where we enjoyed sunset on the beach.  This loggerhead turtle nesting haven was most mellow, though I assume the population swells in summer.

After, we had a fun dinner at the kitschy Crab Shack on an inland waterway.  Our $40 shared platter was enormous.  My crawfish skills are adequate at best.

The (Days) Inn at Ellis Square is in a nice location but I would probably prefer to stay some blocks south, say at or near the Ballastone Inn.  Jenni was sick so I walked on my own through City Market, east to Johnson Square with City Hall in the background and then I headed south on Bull Street which bisects several impossibly charming squares.

Each is filled with live oaks and a statue or memorial, and each time I think I have reached the prettiest I am soon proved wrong.  I saw another dog stalking a squirrel in the park, but unlike in Chicago this one’s owner was a hero and not an accomplice.

There are many impressive old buildings, churches and homes with wrought iron work.  On the south side of Madison Square is shopSCAD (as in Savannah College of Art & Design), well worth a visit for its creative art and home decor.  Forsyth Park is much bigger than the various squares, and not nearly as quaint.

I sought out Angel’s BBQ and Wall’s BBQ but they were closed, and Wiley’s BBQ was not walking distance.  No matter, I met Jenni for a very good lunch at Gryphon (across from SCAD) housed in an ornate old pharmacy.  It was not quite as tasty as it sounds, so one of these days I will attempt a better version of the sandwich with peanut butter, honey, home-made granola and banana.

After lunch we meandered up Abercorn Street, which like Bull Street bisects a number of squares and also a cemetery.  At the northern end we descended a steep staircase to cobblestone River Street lined with shops and bars plus a World War II Memorial.  Savannah Candy Kitchen has a huge selection of fudge, caramel apples, etc., and my free sample of praline was scrumptious.

The Olde Pink House comes highly recommended but no reasonable dinner reservation was on offer, so instead we got a couple slices at Vinnie Van Go Go’s in City Market.  This is a solid, hole in the wall type pizza joint with a counter, some outdoor seats and a little beer on tap.  The area was buzzing on a Monday night.  We laid low, did some work, watched a Red Sox victory and rested up for another long day on the road.

South Carolina: Charleston

The border on I-95 is rife with amusement rides and fireworks, clearing any confusion that you have switched states.


We arrived in Charleston after midnight and I missed the turn off Route 17.  Just a few blocks from our intended destination, I stopped the car to re-orient.  I said to Jenni that it felt like the ghetto, which surprised me because I had previously considered only the touristy images of this renowned destination and we were so near downtown.  As we drove away, the lights flashed in the rear view and I got pulled over.  Two cops approached with flashlights on our faces.  The gentlemen on my side was a little scary himself with tats and a beanie, and he asked what we were doing.  Oddly enough we were not attempting to procure narcotics but only to locate our hotel.  He advised, “well you lost, son, you in the hood!”  He gave us directions and warned us not to return.  Things got much better from here.

October 24-27, 2013 (Thursday-Sunday)

Lacking a full appreciation of Charleston’s popularity and cost, we did not attempt to reserve accommodation until our arrival day.  We booked a private room in the annex building of the Not So Hostel at 33 Cannon Street, which was mediocre (squeaky bed, doors hard to shut, breakfast non-existent, toilet requiring my plumbing skills) but priced right at under $80 including tax.  Despite these flaws we might have stayed the next two nights but private rooms were sold out, and we preferred to keep alive our streak of sleeping in the same room as a married couple.  If you are really budget conscious and don’t mind a shared room, the regular Not So Hostel on Spring Street seemed to have a good vibe and the Cannon annex was not so bad.

Lovely home south of Broad

Lovely home south of Broad

A great many places were sold out or even pricier, and we wanted a premier location for two weekend nights here.  So we bit the bullet and paid $249/night for a fairly lousy Days Inn with a terrific location on Meeting Street.  Fine lodging was available much cheaper across the river in Mount Pleasant and elsewhere.

Friday was a lousy and stressful day.  City Lights Coffee shop on Market Street is a charming spot frequented by locals, but I would have preferred to spend fewer than seven hours here working on visa applications and logistics.  A couple more hours at FedEx and $1029 plus $39 for copies and shipping later, our applications for multi-entry India and China visas were in the mail.  Unfortunately, we had to miss the Friday parade at the Citadel.

White Point Garden

White Point Garden

It was unusually cold during our visit which meant perfect days and cool nights, similar to Los Angeles.  My initial impression is that Charleston is a charming blend of the south and the Caribbean.  There are palm trees and we passed a couple corners with guys playing steel drums.  Unique to this city is the eternal presence of young men wearing perfectly pressed gray and white uniforms of the Citadel.  I was struck by how many people are out cavorting day and night.  The crowd tends to be attractive and apparently this is a popular spot for bachelorette parties.  So pay attention all you single guys…

We walked to dinner at Slightly North of Broad (aka S.N.O.B.) and with no reservation on a Friday night were seated quickly at the chef’s table, which is a bar with six seats at the back of the room facing the open kitchen under a brick archway.  The space is pleasant with high ceilings and exposed pipe, but the pipe is closer to black than stainless and there are dark brass chandeliers.  The result is a nice blend of industrial and southern cozy.

The charcuterie plate arrived in an instant and was delicious.  Jenni’s favorite was the rabbit pate and at yesterday’s fair her favorite attraction was the rabbit barn, so we concluded she likes observing and devouring.  And since I said my favorite attraction of the fair was the pig races, a trend emerged.  The highlight of the meal was the butternut squash bisque.  I had a couple interesting beverages.  Smoke on the Water consisted of Cathead Pecan Vodka, chipotle puree, Oloroso sherry, orgeat syrup and orange peel.  In my martini I opted for pimiento cheese olives instead of my standard blue cheese order.  Overall the meal was enjoyable but nothing special.

The next morning we strolled to the Saturday farmer’s market in Marion Square, where I fell in love with Charleston.  Two sides of the square were lined with booths selling photographs, varied flavors of pecans, fruit, vegetables, shrimp, pottery, honey, flowers, pickled everything, various prepared meals, etc.

A woman with a raspy voice headlined the singer/songwriter duo well-versed in Bob Dylan.  Puppies were omnipresent.  Not just puppies as Jenni uses the word to signify any dog, but actual, adorable puppies.  We were surprised to see a Holocaust memorial on the southeast corner of the square.

It was not yet time for lunch but we were tempted by Ted’s Butcher Block which is a deli with great looking artisanal bacon and sausage and all kinds of meats and cheeses plus freshly made paninis.  The City Market was less exciting and very touristy with cheap jewelry and apparel plus knick knacks and a couple food spots.  Charleston Cooks is a nice little kitchen store that offers cooking classes, and it was here I first heard Everlast’s acoustic version of Jump Around.

Re-energized from this auditory gem, we walked through Waterfront Park with its fountain water pink for breast cancer month.  Whoever came up with that public awareness and fundraising campaign is a genius.  Rainbow Row on East Bay Street is worth a visit, and the homes become grander as one walks south towards the beautiful, live oak filled White Point Garden.  Many of the homes south of Broad are spectacular and some function as museums.  We were enamored of the huge porches which scream (whisper?) relaxation and good living.  Horse carriage tours are everywhere, and we preferred to walk but the informative nature might make these a good bet for orientation.

Our disappointment that Husk (a restaurant by James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock) had already stopped seating for lunch dissipated quickly inside Bull Street Gourmet and Market.  One orders at the counter, there is a robust collection of beers and wines, and my smoked duck club was delicious. Alright y’all, now I’m REALLY far behind as I’m sitting in Hong Kong at the moment, so I’m gonna blow through the rest of this!

We grabbed a nice exercise sesh in Marion Square and saw lots of folks in their tuxedos going to weddings on a Saturday night.  Pre-dinner cocktails at Closed for Business were pleasant, dinner at The Macintosh was near excellent.  The dessert menu was so impressive that I must share it with you.


Yet another waiter who mistook us for bumpkins ignorant in the ways of burrata…After dinner we poked our heads in at Halls Chophouse which was vibrant and reminiscent of Mastro’s.  I think traditionally Calhoun Street was something of a dividing line, but at least now much of the hip restaurant and bar scene is on King Street north of Calhoun.

On Sunday, Sven at last went topless again and there were many folks out jogging as we crossed the bridge to Mount Pleasant.  Brunch at Water’s Edge on Shem Creek was OK, after which we walked around the boardwalk through the salt marshes.  I like this part of town.  And I learned that in the Gullah dialect, cooter means turtle.  How fun.

Boone Hall Plantation is about 15 minutes away and touring this still-working property was wonderful.


I think there are other plantations on the other side of Charleston and don’t know which are the best, but I definitely recommend visiting at least one.  It is hard to imagine others have a more picturesque driveway entrance lined with live oaks.

Boone Hall began growing indigo and rice before focusing on cotton.  Apparently a plantation is a large farm focusing on one crop.  Pecan trees were their big thing at one time.  Now they grow blueberries, peaches, squash, grapes, strawberries and more, plus a little cotton and pecans and wedding venue business.  They filled some of The Notebook here, and Jenni was elated.  Oh, there is also a huge Halloween spectacle and corn maze, and a butterfly garden.

Charleston is a terrific city, just try to avoid making any wrong turns.

A Day in North Carolina

We crossed the state heading to Charleston, and though we did not spend a night, we did notch a couple more college campuses and one serious state fair.


October 24, 2013 (Thursday)

With all due respect to my friends and family who attended Duke, I am no fan of the Blue Devils.  But game recognize game, so I had to check out the campus and Cameron Indoor (where I caught a quick glimpse of practice).  The campus is hilly and most beautiful, with masonry of gray and beige instead of the ivy-covered red brick to which I am more accustomed.  A short drive took us to UNC, and though I did not see enough of Durham for a fair comparison, Chapel Hill seemed like the more attractive town.

We had lunch at Top of the Hill on Franklin Street, the main drag which is lined with shops and restaurants.  Jenni made a nice southern selection of grit cake with mushrooms and shrimp.  See my BBQ post for details on the pulled pork sandwich.  This place is also a brewery.  A couple other recommendations we got were Crooks Corner in town, G2B in Durham and Foster’s Market in between.

A little further south we paid $10 to park across the street from the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, then $9 each to enter.  The village of yesteryear was our first stop, which is a big indoor circle with live demonstrations of how to make things like: soap, candles, pottery, guns, tin, origami, glass, horse hair pottery, brooms and more.  Duane Raver is a nature-painter there that Jenni’s family has known more years than I have lived.


At the Neomonde Bakery artisan bread making show, Jenni guessed correctly that 200k people are born daily worldwide.  This earned her a gratis pumpkin spice cupcake with thick cream cheese frosting.  We fared less well at several games like toss the ring on the bottle, shoot out the red star with the rifle, knock over the blocks with a softball or lift the bottle with a pole and string.  I was quite disappointed with myself.  And with the game operators who pursued customers more aggressively than Allen Iverson avoided practice.

A highlight of the day was the pig race show, which entailed a string of races including the categories of piglets, baby goats, ducks and Vietnamese pot belly pigs.  The hosts had creative NASCAR names, and some of the clientele was entertaining.

We probably should have saved our appetite for things like BBQ turkey legs, fried oreos and sloppy joe’s sandwiches between Krisy Kreme donuts.  Instead, we ate only the fair classic of fried dough.

The livestock section was educational.  I did not know a cow could fetch $25k at market, nor that Zoe the Holstein could give 84 pounds of milk per day.  For $2 each we got a quick lesson in how to pull the udder.

There was an exhibit dedicated to honey bees, largely to raise awareness about their dangerously dwindling population.  A separate building housed the rabbits, and I was surprised by the wide variety of breeds.  I liked the furry white English Agoura.


There was also an agricultural section, where we saw an 800 pound pumpkin, a 5 pound potato (and some really cool decorated spuds), and a 241 pound watermelon.  Jenni saw walnuts and thought they were truffles.  We are a long way from Cali, sweetheart.

On the drive towards Charleston I stopped for gas in Lumberton, North Carolina.  Based on the cast of characters at the station, you certainly should not if you can avoid it.  If we had more time, it would have been nice to visit the Asheville area where Dave’s mom and dad live or the Outer Banks.  Alas, one must leave with reasons to return.