A Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem

We made this trip between May 9th and May 26th. Once again, circumstances conspired to make this post quite late.

Lior Standing before the Kotel (Western Wall) following his Bar Mitzvah

Lior, the youngest son of our Rego Park neighbors, Anat and Shimon, was going to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem. We have known Lior since he was born and felt that we had to be there. So we scheduled a trip to Israel. Sounds simple… It wasn’t.

Susie decided that since we were heading to Israel, we should also visit her cousin Shelley in Aix-en-Provence. Shelley and her husband, Michael have repeatedly asked us to visit them and it was time that we do just that. That side trip was not as easy as I thought it would be. When I tried to book it myself, the trip was double th cost of a direct flight to Tel Aviv and back to New York. We turned to our travel agent in Sarasota for help in getting this trip done. Our travel agent found that it was not a simple thing because we wanted to fly on El Al, the Israeli airline.

To get to Aix-en-Provence, we left New York on Thursday afternoon and landed in Barcelona, Spain on Friday morning. In Barcelona, we took a high-speed train (the French TGV) to Aix, arriving there on Friday night. The trip involved 22 hours of travel during which we hardly slept. Shelley and Michael picked us up at the railroad station and took us to their home.

On Saturday morning, Michael drove us into the Aix. It was market day and there were several markets where vendors were selling fresh food, antiques and Flowers. The town was quite crowded. When we got to the main street in Aix, Cours Mirabeau, we learned of the other reason for the crowd… the next day was the running of a 70.3 Mile Ironman Race. Aix is a fascinating city and I wish we had the time to see more of it.

Susie and Shelley in front of the cathedral. I was surprised to see Alphorns playing until i remembered that the French Alps are visible north of the city
The Flower market on the Place de l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall Square)
Sand Sculpture on the Cours Mirabeau
The Finish line for the IronMan race to be run the run on Sunday

On Sunday morning, Shelley, Michael, Susie and I headed to Marseille, about 45 minutes south of Aix. My description of Marseille is a port area surrounded by hills. We parked in the Old Port and spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon walking. The upper part of the city contains a lot of narrow streets and stairways by which the area is navigated. By mid afternoon, we were all worn out and headed back to Aix.

Michael, Susie and Shelley in the Old Port area. On the hill behind them is the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Marseille Harbor entrance. The smaller island on the left is the Château d’If, a prison used as the model in Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
The Marseille Cathedral
Street scene showing stairways and narrow streets on the hilly portion of Marseille.
La Vielle Charite.
Susie walking on one of the narrow streets of Marseille.
Graffiti covered several of the walls on the streets we walked.

On Monday, May 13th, We headed back to Barcelona. As I said earlier, there was no other way for us to economically make the trip to Aix-en-Provence and then to Israel. The trip required two changes of trains. The first leg was on the high-speed train to Marseille, a trip that took about 11 minutes. We then took a regional train (slower than the TGV) to Montpellier where we changed to the high-speed train to Barcelona. Not only did we change trains, but we also had to change stations. This was accomplished by taking a free shuttle bus to a light rail station. The light rail dropped us off near the second station. We arrived in Barcelona in late afternoon and stayed overnight in an airport hotel. The next morning we took our flight to Israel arriving that afternoon, local time. We rented a car and headed to my cousins Noemi and Yair in Ramat HaSharon.

On Wednesday, May 15th, we headed into Yaffo, one of the oldest cities in the world. Yaffo is now part of the city of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The visit to Yaffo with my cousins Noemi and Yair, is something we have done every time we came to Israel. We walked along the Tel Aviv Promenade where you can a good view of both the Yaffo and Tel Aviv waterfront.

One of the highlights of this visit was eating at an authentic Arab restaurant. A variety of appetizers absolutely filled the table, with just enough room for the plates. After filling up on the appetizers came the main course… we didn’t need a big dinner that night.

Tel Aviv, as seen from the northern part of Yaffo. When I left Israel, in 1952, the tallest building was about four floors high.
Yaffo as seen from the Tel Aviv Promenade. The rocks on the left center are the location of the Greek Mythological tale of Andromeda.
Yaffo Port Breakwater. Andromeda rocks are visible off the end of the breakwater.

Thursday, May 16th, was devoted to Lior’s Bar Mitzvah. We left Ramat Hasharon early in the morning and headed on our first of three trips to Jerusalem. Our destination was a parking lot adjacent to the Pais Arena, where we boarded a bus to the Dung Gate of the Old City. On the way, we stopped at the Jerusalem Windmill for breakfast. The lack of parking anywhere near the Dung Gate necessitated the use of the bus. The Dung Gate is located adjacent to three structures that are significant to two religions. The first and second are Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, holy to Islam. Both of these are located on Temple Mount. The third structure is the Western Wall, known as the Kotel to Jews.

The Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem.
Three generations of the Weitz Family at the Windmill. The old City wall is behind them.

The area in front of the Kotel is managed in accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition, the men and women are in separate areas, separated by a fence (see picture below). The picture below was taken during our visit in 2014. It was taken on Wednesday when no Bar Mitzvahs are held at the Kotel because the Torah is normally read on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday.

The Kotel on a Wednesday

The crowd on Thursday is a lot larger with the men in the Bar Mitzvah party pushing closer to the wall. The women are trying to get closer to the fence so they can watch the proceedings over it. My pictures of Lior’s Bar Mitzvah were limited because the professional photographer was in the best position, as he should be, and blocked my shots.

Shimon Assisting Lior with the Tefillin (Phylacteries)
Shimon blessing his sons, Lior and Ron, after the Torah reading.
This picture is symbolic, to me at least, of Israel. An armed soldier praying at the Kotel. This picture also provides a view of all the prayer messages tucked into the wall.

After the Torah reading the group proceeded out of the Old City accompanied by musicians. We boarded the bus and headed to a restaurant for the reception. After the meal, we boarded the bus again and headed to the parking lot to retrieve our car for the trip back to Ramat Hasharon.

The next few days were spent with my cousins. The highlight was a dinner on Friday night with our five cousins and their significant others.

On Saturday, we drove through Jerusalem to the settlement of Kedar, to attend Lior’s Bar Mitzvah in the local synagogue. We had to Leave Ramat Hasharon early to make the 8am start time for the service. I left my camera at my cousins because photography was not permitted in the synagogue.

On Monday, May 20th, accompanied by Noemi and Yair, we headed to Haifa. A week before we left New York, Susie learned that she had a second cousin, on her paternal side of the family, who lived in Haifa. Up until this point she had very little knowledge about her grandmother’s family. It turned out that the newly found cousin’s grandmother was Susie’s grandmother’s sister. While still in New York, Susie contacted her cousin, Sharon and arranged a lunch meeting at a restaurant on Dado Beach near Haifa. Prior to meeting Sharon, we went to Mount Carmel, where we viewed the Bahai Shrine and gardens. Following the lunch, we headed to Caesarea, to visit her cousin, Anne.

Yair, Noemi, Susie on Mount Carmel
Bahai Shrine seen from above, Mount Carmel, Haifa
The Bahai shrine seen from the German Colony.
Susie on Dado Beach, Haifa
Susie and newly found cousin, Sharon

On Tuesday, May 21st, cousin Gadi took us north to Galilee. We had been in the area on previous trips to Israel, but not to the places he took us. We visited Qiryat Shemona, Metula (northernmost city in Israel), Tel Hai, Tel Dan Nature Reserve, and places in the Golan Heights.

Alaska Inn hotel in Metula. Not something I expected to see in northern Israel.
Lebanon, viewed from Metula. The road, at center, is in Lebanon. Snow-capped Mount Hermon is in the backgound. The israeli occupied part of the mountain contains the only ski area in the country
Joseph Trumpeldor Memorial in Tel Hai. Behind it lie the graves of the defenders of Tel Hai in 1920.
Site of a major tank battle in Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Vineyard in the crater of the Avital Volcano, Golan Heights
New Qunaitra, Syria viewed from the Golan Heights. The old city was almost totally destroyed during the 1973 war. Truce line is located just beyond the agricultural land in the foreground.

On May 22nd, we went back to Jerusalem. Susie wanted to revisit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. We had visited it previously in 2000. Photography was not permitted in the museum, so.. No Pictures.

Before we left New York, Susie learned that her friend and colleague, Barbara Stripling, was going to be in Jerusalem on this day. So, we decided to meet for a few hours. That turned into a minor comedy. Barbara told Susie the name of the hotel. Unknown to us, there were three hotels in Jerusalem with the same name. Of course, Susie and I went to the wrong one. A helpful front desk clerk helped us locate Barbara.

Barbara Stripling and Susie in Jerusalem

We had one last excursion on May 23rd. That was back to Caesarea. We had already visited Caesarea a few days earlier, but this time we just went to the beach north of the town. The beach sits alongside the ruins of a Roman aqueduct that I assume supplied ancient Caesarea. It appears that there is some stabilization work being performed on the aqueduct as well as some beach replenishment from the sand on the land side of the aqueduct.

Roman Aqueduct at Caesarea Beach. Sand has blown over the aqueduct and is being used for beach replenishment (center, right).
Beach restoration and stabilization of Caesarea Aqueduct
Susie under one of the aqueduct arches. We saw people using the arches as cooking shelters and a place to get out of the sun.

Friday, May 24th was spent relaxing and walking on the shopping streets of Ramat Hasharon. Saturday was a day of rest and an early night. On Sunday, we left Ramat Hasharon at 5 am for an 8 am flight to New York. The flight was long, eleven hours, but uneventful.

This was a great trip. We saw Lior at his Bar Mitzvah and we saw Susie’s and my relatives. We are already talking about another trip in two years, God willing.

On the Road Again… Sort of

I started writing this post three weeks after we returned to the United States from Tanzania and Kenya. I had originally planned to maintain the blog on a daily basis and soon gave that up because of the tour schedule and the volume of pictures we shot every day. This post will not be a description of our daily activities which were essentially the same… daily game drives originating from different locations. Instead, the post will focus on the pictures we took during those drives. Don’t worry, I won’t post the 3,000 plus pictures.

We left Sarasota on January 3rd and headed to Miami International Airport for the first leg of our trip to Tanzania, a 9-hour flight to Amsterdam. After a three-hour layover, we took off for Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, a half hour ride from our first stop in Arusha. We met Eric, our Tour Director, and fellow travelers at the hotel and began our Tauck Tour. Rather than describe the tour, I suggest following this link for a description of the itinerary. Most of the roads we traveled on were bumpy dirt tracks. It also included four flights on small chartered aircraft. Two of the flights were on a Twin Otter, that was 45 years old… not an unusual feat for that plane.

Our journey back to Sarasota was, in a word, epic. We left the Maasai Mara Reserve for a one-hour flight to Nairobi at 8 am local time (eight-hour difference from Eastern Time). The flight landed in a small commercial airport south of the city. The original plan was to stay in a hotel in downtown Nairobi before heading to the International Airport. Due to the terrorist attack on the previous day, Tauck decided that we would not go downtown and placed us in a hotel at the International Airport. Our eight-hour flight to Paris left Nairobi around midnight. After a four hour layover, we took off for the ten-hour flight to Miami. Due to the Federal Government shutdown, the immigration and customs process took a lot longer than our previous experience at Miami International airport. After retrieving our car, we drove to Sarasota. Total time… nearly twenty-four hours.

Four days after we got back to Sarasota, we headed to Seattle for The American Library Association Winter Meeting. While Susie was in meetings, I stayed in the hotel and worked on selecting the pictures, a process that took longer than I anticipated. After returning from Seattle, we spent four days traveling in Florida, meeting family and friends.

The pictures that follow are sorted by category rather than following a time line.





Stay tuned for our next trip.

Washington DC at Night

On our way to Florida for the winter, we stopped in Washington, DC for a long weekend, to attend the festivities surrounding the wedding of the son of one of my cousins. On Thursday, October 4th, our only evening without any scheduled activities, we took a night tour of Washington, DC. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, we stopped at the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, and Marine Corps Memorial. Susie and I highly recommend that anyone visiting Washington take a night tour.

I have not done much low light photography and this tour was quite a challenge for me. My camera does not have a flash… it would be useless for most of the pictures I took; I left my monopod and tripod in the car, which was in the hotel garage, so I had to take all the pictures free-hand. Fortunately, I took enough pictures changing camera settings until I got a usable shot. Below is a selection of what I felt were the best shots of the night.


Jefferson Memorial viewed from the edge of the Tidal Basin

Cousins at the Jefferson Memorial. From left to right, my Chilean cousins Polo, Patricia (aka Jenny) and Sam with Susie

FDR in a Wheelchair. The sculpture is based on a rare photograph of Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

This sculpture of a depression era breadline is based on a famous photograph

Martin Luther King Memorial

Lincoln Memorial Viewed from the edge of the Reflecting Pool. After walking about five miles this afternoon, I was in no mood to tackle the steps into the Memorial. That is why I stayed below to take this shot.

Washington Monument and Capitol viewed from the Lincoln Memorial

Pentagon 9/11 Monument. This monument consists of 184 benches, one for each victim. The benches have reflecting pools under them

Marine Corps Monument

Note: I didn’t realize that I the copyright date on the pictures was wrong. I thought I had updated it. All these pictures were taken on October 4, 2018, and the copyright is for that date.

50th Anniversary Cruise/Tour

As you know, I always tried to maintain a daily blog when we were on the road. I decided not to have a daily blog since most of the days will be spent on long drives from point A to B with little to talk about except for one day when we had some excitement. Complicating our ability to maintain a daily blog was the poor quality of Internet service in some of the hotels and the high cost of Internet service onboard the cruise ship.

Susie and I spent six weeks in Sarasota, ending on August 3rd when we started out to Seattle to meet our family. As you will see, we are not taking the easy or most direct route.

Why another cruise to Alaska?

We celebrated our 50th anniversary on April 28th and wanted to go on a trip with our children and grandchildren to commemorate the event. Ben, our oldest grandson, asked that we take a trip to Alaska, “because Grammy and Poppa always go there.” That request led to our booking a cruise to Alaska starting August 18th. When we were in Chile last November, we mentioned our plan to our cousins. Ilani (actually, Doctor Ilani), the daughter of one of my cousins, asked to come along and we said, “sure.” Before we knew it, Ilani’s parents, aunt and uncle decided to join us.

North to Alaska.

Our route took us from Sarasota to Daphne, AL, located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, on the first day. The next day, after a long drive, we stopped in Dallas to visit our friend Bobbie Athey. We had dinner with her before heading to the hotel for the night.

The third day was a long ride to Albuquerque, NM, where we had an exciting finish to the day. We were driving west on I-40, about four miles from our hotel when we saw what looked like a square metal tube on the road. Traffic conditions would not allow me to take evasive action and we hit the object. Fearing the worst, I immediately pulled over to the side of the highway to inspect the damage. The object hit the underside of the car just below the engine and ripped a protective shield that was now scrapping the ground. Not seeing any leaking fluid, we headed to the hotel for the night… nothing was going to get repaired on a Sunday.

The next morning, we took the car to a nearby Subaru dealer for repairs. Their inspection confirmed that the was no damage other than the shield. Unfortunately, the part had to be ordered so they cut off the hanging portion of the shield and we were ready to continue our trip. We will have the repairs made in New York. Leaving the dealership, we headed out to Monument Valley, UT. The route took us west on I-40 to Gallup, NM where picked up local roads through the Navajo Nation to our destination. As we got closer to Monument Valley, we could see and smell evidence of the many fires that are plaguing the western states.

Monument Valley

We had been to Monument Valley five years ago and took a self-guided tour. This tour is within the Monument Valley Tribal Park and is limited to a loop that took about three hours to complete. To see more of the valley, you must hire a Navajo guide. We wanted to see the backcountry, so we decided to stay at Goulding’s Lodge and take an eight-hour guided tour with one of their Navajo guides. As it turned out, we wound up on a private tour because we were the only people who signed up for that day’s tour.

Smoke from the many forest fires burning in the west this summer obscures the normally clear view of Monument Valley.

Leland, our guide, was great. He is an exercise physiologist and acts as a guide on a part-time basis. After a quick introduction, we were off to Mystery Valley, south of Monument Valley. As you turn off the highway, you see a sign warning that this is private property and not open to the public. Goulding’s Lodge must pay for every tour that goes outside of the tribal park. We spent about four hours in Mystery Valley exploring Ancestral Puebloan dwellings tucked under rock overheads and up in the cliffs. All around the backcountry, we could see petroglyphs that date back to the earlier inhabitants.

Inside this opening were remnants of a cliff dwelling. This is the only climb to a dwelling that I was able to visit. It was an “easy” climb according to Leland.

View from inside the cliff shown in the preceding picture.

One of many cliff dwellings we saw in Mystery Walley

This and most of the cliff dwellings are difficult to reach.

There are also a lot of interesting rock formations and arches. Leland guided me up two of these formations showing me step by step where to place my feet. The trip down retraced the path up, except that I did a little sliding down on my backside. One of these climbs brought us up to the top of an arch which I estimate to be 70 to 100 feet above the ground below. Looking down I could see Susie who looked very small. After climbing the arch, Leland brought us into a cool (a relative term considering the temperature was above 100˚F) grove of trees that contained a grill and picnic table where he made hamburgers for the three of us. After lunch, Leland drove us into the Navajo Tribal Park section of Monument Valley. We stayed on the route that is used by visitors who are not traveling with a Navajo guide for a short distance and entered an area requiring escorts. Here we encountered more rock formations, dwellings, and petroglyphs.

Leland and I Climbed up to the top of this arch

This picture depicts exactly what my eye saw. Susie appeared to be a couple of inches tall.

Susie’s zoomed in view of me on top of the arch.

Standing at the top of the arch we got a good view of the surrounding area

The Eye in the Sky is an almost perfect circle. The cave shape makes it a perfect acoustical chamber. Set up seating and you have an amphitheater.

John Ford directed many western movies in Monument Valley and made the valley a popular attraction that brought revenue into the Navajo Nation.

Kokopelli is sometimes described as a clown, a fertility god and a mischief maker. Leland didn’t know why he was sideways.

Antelopes are one of the most common petroglyphs we saw in Mystery Valley.

It was a long hot day, but we enjoyed every minute of it. The only down part of the whole trip was the smoke from forest fires that covered the valley and obscured some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. If you are planning a trip to this area, I recommend using a Navajo guide rather than a self-guided trip.

On to Olympic National Park

The next few days were spent driving to Washington’s Olympic National Park. The first day out of Monument Valley was a short run to Green River, UT. On the way to Green River, we stopped in Dead Horse Point State Park. Dead horse Point overlooks the Colorado River and Shafer Canyon, a portion of Canyonlands National Park. In 2006 we traveled through the Southwestern United States. One of the stops was in Moab, UT, from which we explored Canyonlands and Arches National Park. On exiting Canyonlands, I asked a park ranger if there was a four-wheel drive road/trail that would take us back to Moab. The ranger recommended using the Shafer Canyon Trail (check out the YouTube Video on this website). This trail had a lot of switchbacks and some significant drops that would have totally ruined our day. We made it, but Susie warned me not to think about doing another trail like this one. Now I wanted to see Shafer Canyon from a different perspective, thus our side trip to Dead Horse Point.

Gooseneck Point is one of the most prominent features visible from Dead Horse Point.

This view of Shafer Canyon shows the road we traveled. At the top center of the picture, you can see the plateau from which the road descends, but not the hairpin turns that mark the first, most difficult, section.

The salt evaporation pans are at the end of the trail. Beyond the pans is a road that parallels the Colorado River and takes you to Moab.

Our next stop was Boise, ID. To get there we traveled off the Interstate System from Green River to Provo. On this route, we saw at least one active fire being worked in extremely steep terrain. The firefighters working in the Western United States are doing a difficult job in extreme circumstances with minimal rest. Once on the Interstate Highway system travel was a little better but the smoke conditions and reduced visibility continued. We stopped in Boise for two nights because we wanted to visit with one of Susie’s colleagues who moved to Boise after retiring. We also wanted to spend some time with one of Susie’s cousins who is working on her master’s degree at Boise State.

Susie and Charlie in Boise

Susie and Katherine in Charlie’s home

From Boise, we headed to Port Angeles, WA, and the Olympic National Park. It was scheduled to be one of the longest drives we had on this trip. The closing of the Northbound section of I-5 in Seattle caused a traffic nightmare that resulted in our spending an additional hour and a half on the road.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park was one of the places on my “bucket list.” Twice before we had plans to visit Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and had to change our plans because of serious issues encountered with our trailer. When we hit the pipe on the Interstate in Albuquerque, I thought that the “Olympic Curse” hit us again… it didn’t!

The Olympic Peninsula is in the southern part of a temperate rainforest that reaches through British Columbia to Southeastern Alaska. We spent three days visiting different parts of the Olympic National Park. On our first day, we visited Hurricane Ridge, which rises to over 5,200 feet in elevation. When we woke up that morning, we saw fog in addition to the persistent smoke and thought that we were not able to see anything from the ridge. The road from the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center is 17 miles long with many curves. At times, as we had to slow down to a crawl because visibility was extremely limited. Shortly before we reached the top of the road, the fog cleared up and we found ourselves with a view of the Olympic Mountains above the clouds. The clouds limited our view of the terrain below. Port Angeles and the surrounding area would be visible on a clear day and so would Victoria, British Columbia, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the way down off the ridge, we again encountered some more thick fog. At least we got a good view of the mountain tops.

A panoramic view from Hurricane Ridge. You can see the fog hanging in the valleys below which made driving up and down an “interesting” experience.

This is the view we could have seen if there was no fog. Look beyond the sign and see nothing like it.

On our second day, we drove to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States. It was a long ride that basically followed the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The smoky haze that we have lived with since New Mexico now obscured the southern coast of Vancouver Island. Once we arrived at the parking area we had to walk about half a mile to the tip of Cape Flattery. The trail is moderately steep at first with “stairs” built in (I found it easier at times to walk off the stairs… less impact on my knees). It then flattens out somewhat on boardwalks and stairs on soggy ground. The last part of the trail is a combination of boardwalks and steps leading to several different lookouts. Susie opted not to go all the way to the tip of the cape and stopped at the first lookout which offered a good view of the action of the waves on the land. I continued to the end of the trail where I stood and had a good view of several “holes in the wall” and one arch. From the last lookout, I could see the Cape Flattery lighthouse which is located on a small rocky island. The walk back was partially uphill, and we were both happy to see the car at the head of the trail.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is a busy body of water which services two major ports, Seattle and Vancouver, BC

a view from a viewpoint southeast of the tip of Cape Flattery.

Sea caves on the northern coast of Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery Light on Tatoosh Island as viewed from Cape Flattery.

I didn’t bring my big zoom lens so I had to use my normal lens zoomed out to its maximum 105mm. Another photography lesson learned? It’s not my first time

On the third day, we headed to the Hoh Rainforest, another trip down the winding US 101. There has been less than normal (whatever counts as normal these days) rainfall so the forest was not as wet as I expected. Nonetheless, it is a lush environment with moss-draped trees, clear spring-fed streams and silty glacial rivers running through it. There are several trails in the forest and, at the recommendation of a park ranger we chose a 0.8-mile loop that would give us a good view of the rainforest. There are a variety of trees in the forest ranging from huge Douglass Firs to Sitka Spruce and maples. The elevation changes on the trail were moderate. After leaving the rainforest, we headed for several beaches that line the western shore of the Olympic Peninsula. We visited two beaches, Rialto Beach and First Beach located on either side of the mouth of the Quileute River near the Quileute Indian Reservation and the town of La Push. The beaches are not very wide and don’t go far above the high tide mark. Above the beaches piles of driftwood ranging from large sections of trees complete with roots to smaller pieces with very interesting shapes. Offshore are sea stacks, rocky outcroppings of various sizes. We have seen these sea stacks along the Pacific coast from Northern California to Washington.

Five foot Susie standing next to a 200 foot Douglas Fir. This tree is over 200 years old.

A close up of Susie at the base of the Douglas Fir. As big as the tree is its roots are very shallow because of the limited topsoil in the area. This makes it vulnerable to being felled by strong winds.

A fallen Douglas Fir becomes a “Nurse Log” providing a place for other trees to take root. It also provides nourishment as it decays.

This tree grew on a nurse log. When the nurse log completely deteriorates it leaves this hollow.

A stand of moss-draped Maples.

A clear running stream. Most of the vegetation is below the water. Photo by Susie.

As we were leaving the Hoh Rainforest, we spotted these Elk cows resting on the bank of the Hoh River

Hugh Trees Tossed above the High Water line. This demonstrates the power of the wind and waves.

An interesting piece of driftwood. It looks like it may be a tree that grew on a nurse log.

The driftwood logs serve as a place to sit and view the surf

Sea Stacks at Mouth of Quillayute River Viewed From Rialto Beach


With the Olympic Peninsula now off our bucket list, we went to Seattle to meet our family in advance of our Alaska cruise. Because this is a relatively short trip, we left our Port Angeles lodgings later than normal for us. Rather than drive around Puget Sound, we headed for Bainbridge Island to get on the ferry to Seattle. While this doesn’t significantly affect travel time, it does save miles. We arrived at the terminal approximately two hours after we left Port Angeles and were on the line for the ferry with a half hour wait. The crossing is about half an hour and we were on the streets of Seattle within a few minutes of docking. The trip to the hotel should have taken 15 minutes but took more than 20… for some reason the car’s GPS did not have a lock on its location and led me astray. The same thing happened with Google Maps on the iPhone on the next day. Carrie, Josh and the grandkids arrived on Thursday and Rick arrived on Friday. Saturday afternoon, we were on the Ruby Princess ready for our Alaska cruise.

Cruising Alaska

This is our fifth time in these waters. Susie and I cruised to Alaska from Vancouver in 1999 and in 2001 (following a Hess family reunion). We also traveled on the Alaska Ferry System in 2015 from Bellingham, WA and 2016 from Prince Rupert, BC. That trip took us some places that the big cruise ships cannot enter. Click for the route map.

Day 1 and 2 – At Sea

The Ruby Princess pulled out of Elliott Bay and turned North on Puget Sound. It then to the Strait of Juan de Fuca west before turning north along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The ship continued on the open sea west of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) before entering the Inside Passage. This was new to us since our previous cruises from Vancouver followed the channel between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland and up the inside passage.

Day 3 – Juneau, AK

We arrived in Juneau around 11:00 am. My Chilean cousins, Susie and I had not paid for any shore excursions, so we were freewheeling it. Josh, Ben, Henry and cousin Ilani took an excursion to a dog sledding demonstration.  The rest of us had lunch and then decided to go on the Mount Roberts Tramway to get a view of Juneau from above. While on one of the trails on the mountain we encountered Josh and company who had decided to go on the tram after their excursion.

Downtown Juneau and Douglas Viewed From Mount Roberts

Ruby Princess Viewed From Mount Roberts

Pilar, Susie, Patricia (Jenny) and Ilani on Mount Roberts

After we came down from Mount Roberts, the Chilean cousins, Susie and I took a shuttle (which also gave us a city tour) to the Mendenhall Glacier. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time at the glacier before we had to return to the ship. I suggested that they go to an observation area where they could get a good look at the glacier. If I had to do it all over again, I would have suggested doing the glacier trip first and then, if there was enough time, go on the tram. Alas, I can’t do it all over again.

Juneau Cruise Ship Dock viewed From Douglas Island

My Chilean Cousins on Douglas Island

Mendenhall Glacier viewed from the Visitors Center. Nugget Falls is partially seen on right (picture taken on 2016 trip). When we were here 20 years ago, the face of the glacier was near the falls. It is hard to judge how much more the glacier has receded in the past two years.

Mendenhall Glacier viewed from near Nugget Falls (2016)

Nugget Falls (2016)

Day 4 – Skagway, AK

The Ruby Princess docked in Skagway at 7:00 am. The Chilean cousins, Susie and I were scheduled on an eight-hour bus and rail system that left not long after we docked. Rick, Josh, Carrie, and the grandkids had an excursion that included gold panning and seeing sled dogs being trained followed by a bus ride to Fraser, BC and the train back down to Skagway.

The “adults” took a tour bus far north as Carcross, Yukon Territory on the South Klondike Highway. Skagway is one of two towns on the Inside passage that has a road that connects to the highway system and the outside world… Haines, a few miles South is the other. The bus stopped periodically so that we could stretch our legs and view the scenery. We spent a few hours in Caribou Crossings, an attraction that had a museum, barbecue (lunch included in the excursion), sled dogs, and, of course, a general store.

Lakes created by retreating glaciers dot the area off the South Klondike Highway. There ae no fish in these lakes as they are quite shallow and completely freeze in winter

Our cousins at the British Columbia – Yukon border

Carcross General Store in Caribou Crossings. Note what they sell and it is recommended by Tripadvisor.

Carcross Yukon Public LIbrary

A father and daughter moment in Carcross

Carcross Desert

Forest fires burning near the South Klondike Highway

After an hour in Caribou Crossings, we headed back south to Fraser, British Columbia, and White Pass and Yukon Railroad for the return to Skagway. We thought we were done with smoke from forest fires, but we were wrong. Between Fraser and Carcross we saw plumes of smoke from forest fires that were started the previous week by lightning strikes. I didn’t see any attempts to fight the fires. I understand that if the fire does not threaten population centers or infrastructure, they will let it burn out.

Susie and I took a similar version of today’s train trip in 1999 and it still amazes me that the track was completed in a short time considering the landscape to which it clings. Interestingly, the train is not just a tourist ride up a mountainside. It is also a flag stop railway. There are two flag stops on the journey where the train drops off or picks up hikers. Once back in Skagway, Susie and I headed back to the ship while our cousins walked around the town.

White Pass and Yukon Railroad (WPYR) along the route from Fraser to Skagway

River and Lakes Along White Pass Right-of-way

Gold Rush Era Northwest Mounted Police Post adjacent to tracks. Stampeders were required to stop and show that they had six months worth of resources before being allowed into Canada.

Border marker above the railroad right-of-way

White Pass RR clinging to the side of the mountain

White Pass Trail viewed from the train

Skagway River as viewed from the train

Day 5 – Glacier Bay, AK

This is a day at sea with and cruise in Glacier Bay (click link for the route). This is a first for Susie and me… the previous cruises in 1999 and 2001 did not go into the bay. The ship entered Glacier Bay and cruised up to the face of Margerie Glacier and the adjacent Grand Pacific Glacier at the head of the bay. Margerie Glacier is what most people a glacier to imagine and we spent most of the time viewing it. We saw and heard Margerie Glacier calve several times. None of the calving episodes were particularly spectacular. The Grand Pacific Glacier is covered with rocks and other debris ground from the surrounding mountains and is most definitely not white. After leaving the head of Glacier Bay, we traveled partially up Johns Hopkins Inlet before turning and passing Lamplugh Glacier. We passed several other glaciers on the route in and out of the bay, but these three glaciers were the highlight of the cruise. Click for a Glacier Bay fact sheet.

Ruby Princess approaching Margerie Glacier

Margerie Glacier flowing down the valley it created

The face of Margerie Glacier is one mile wide and about 200 feet above the water line. The portion below the water is probably another 100 feet.

The Aronsons at Margerie Glacier

Grand Pacific Glacier

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Lamplugh Glacier.

Hanging Glaciers above Glacier Bay. Two hundred years ago this part of the bay was under hundreds of feet of ice.

Day 6 – Ketchikan, AK

Leaving Glacier Bay, the ship returned to the Inside Passage for an overnight trip to Ketchikan, arriving at 7:00 am. We only had six hours in port which is enough time to spend a fortune in the many stores that are within a few blocks of the docks. I jokingly tell people that Ketchikan is the Tlingit word for shopping.

Susie and I had spent time in Ketchikan before so we (Susie) were not interested in the stores. While Carrie and Josh took the boys on a kayaking excursion, we took Eve to Totem Bight and a logger’s competition. Our Chilean cousins joined us on our excursion. We also took a walk on Creek Street, the old red-light district that has been converted to another shopping area.

Eve and Susie (aka Grammy) at Totem Bite State Historical Park

Creek Street

Dolly’s House (Green building in picture, above) was the most famous of the Creek Street brothels.

Seal Waiting for Salmon in the Creek

The Great Alaska Lumberjack Show

Day 7 – Victoria, BC

Leaving Ketchikan, the ship traveled between Haida Gwaii and the British Columbia mainland and out at sea to the west of Vancouver Island. While at sea, Carrie, Josh, the grandkids, Susie and I received an invitation from the Captain to a tour of the bridge. This was a surprise to us and was arranged by Josh’s sister’s brother in law. He also arranged a complimentary Anniversary Package that included a dinner at one of the ship’s specialty restaurant this evening. The ship arrived in Victoria at 7 pm and we only had five hours on shore. Our whole group took the excursion to Butchart Gardens. By the time we got to the park, daylight was fading. The gardens are illuminated with artificial lighting which makes for a beautiful view but not so beautiful photography. At midnight the ship departed Victoria and arrived in Seattle at 7 am.

East to New York


Since we were taking our own luggage, we were on the first group to depart the ship. We left the ship at 7:15 am and within 30 minutes we were in our car ready to head east. It was Saturday and we were through Seattle and on I-90 heading east in no time. Our first day’s destination was Missoula, MT and entailed crossing the Cascade Mountains again and entering the Rocky Mountains. It was a long trip on a day that started at 5 am Pacific time and ended around 5 pm Mountain time.

We left Missoula early in the morning heading for Glendive, MT, 8+ hours of driving. Once we got east of the Rockies we encountered strong wind and some rain, but they didn’t present any serious problems.

The next day took us across the flat prairie lands of North Dakota. The prairie wind was hitting us broadside which meant holding the steering wheel a little harder than usual. We crossed the Missouri River at Bismarck and the Red River which forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. East of the Red River the terrain becomes a little bit hillier and we encountered rain showers. As we arrived in St Cloud, the rain let up and I thought we were done with it. I parked the car under the portico of our hotel and went in to check in while Susie sat in the car. There were several guests ahead of me on line and when I went back to the car the rain had started again, driven horizontally by the strong winds. I got soaking wet unloading the car and had to change clothes. Complicating our situation was the fact that the automatic door stopped working and we had to force the door open. In the evening we met our friends, Joy and Doug, for dinner. They drove quite a distance from north of Minneapolis to meet us. Joy and Doug were our neighbors in an RV Park when our trailer broke down in 2010. We have since had them as guests in New York and met them for dinner in St Paul two years ago.

Our next stop was in Chicago. Getting to the suburbs was a good ride. Once inside the city, traffic nightmares cause me to want to bypass the city, but we kept on. To make our life more interesting we arrived at the Hyatt Regency Chicago to learn that they were overbooked and had no room for us. The hotel blamed Expedia for the problem, but I was not accepting that. I asked for a manager and she arranged for us to have complimentary rooms in another Hyatt property a few blocks away.

Susie had wanted us to stop in Chicago for a couple of nights for two reasons. First to visit her cousin, Sasha, whom we have not seen for some time, and her husband and two kids that we have never met. The second reason was to walk along the Chicago River and take a tour on the river, two things she was unable to do when we were here in 2017 because of her broken patella. Having only one full day to this, the weather stepped in and eliminated the tour option. Susie had also arranged a lunch with two of her friends from the American Library Association which occupied a couple of pleasant hours. In the evening we went to Sasha’s home and had a great visit and dinner with her family. Despite the morning rain, it was a great day in Chicago.

We left Chicago early so that we could avoid traffic, which, fortunately, is what happened. Our destination was Charm, OH, a regular stop for us when we are traveling through the area on I-90/I-80. We met our friends, Mary and Emanuel,  for dinner on both nights we were there. We also got to meet the family of their son, Alan, who we got to know in Sarasota. Alan was working, and we were sorry we missed him.

Our only full day was busy. Spent the part of the morning with Rebecca, one of Susie’s graduate school students, who was visiting the area with her daughter. We acquainted them Keim Lumber, where we spent some money on exotic woods for future projects. Rebecca managed to buy a few small items for herself. After saying our farewells, we headed north of Charm to see Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron, OH. This is not an ordinary hardware store and sells hardware (including things you won’t find in the big box stores), non-electric appliances geared to the Amish community, toys and many other things (see link). We then went to visit our young Amish friend, Emma. We met Emma in Berlin, OH a few years ago and Susie has a continuous letter writing relationship with her since then. On arriving at Emma’s family farm, we were told that she had a job packing produce on a farm a few miles away. We spent some time with the family, Susie with the women and me with her father and two brothers and then headed out to find Emma. I don’t know how the GPS got us there… the roads kept getting narrower as we went along. The last one was clearly not designed for automobile traffic. We finally got to the farm and spent some time with Emma before heading back to Charm.

Our last obligatory stop was in Lancaster County, PA. We stop here to stock up on jams, jellies and other goodies at Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, PA. It was a pleasant drive over lightly traveled highways… I guess that everyone was already at their Labor Day weekend destination.

Our final day was also the easiest one. We had breakfast at our hotel and headed out about 6:30 am on nearly empty roads. I expected to have a lot of traffic as we approached New York City, but we had only one traffic jam, at the junction of The Gowanus and Brooklyn-Queens Expressways. This is a normal bottleneck that was surprisingly easy to transition. We were at our house by 9:45 am.

Final Note

The Hess Family

As I stated earlier, our 50th anniversary was the reason we took this cruise. It turned out to be a great celebration for us to be with our children, grandchildren and our Chilean cousins. More importantly, it was a way to introduce our grandkids to Alaska, which as everyone knows is one of our favorite destinations. Ben, Henry and Eve got to see glaciers and wildlife that they had not seen before. I think they may want to come back and see more of this great state.

So, what is next for us? In January 2019 we are traveling to Tanzania and Kenya for a photo safari. In May we plan to be in Israel for the Bar-Mitzvah of Lior, our Rego Park neighbor. I hope we have better Internet access on those trips, so we can maintain this blog daily.

Home Sweet Home – Sarasota

I wanted to post this entry two days ago, but when we got to our home is Sarasota we had a “hot”surprise. The temperature inside was over 90 degrees, ten degrees above the thermostat setting.  I set the thermostat to 75 degrees and after a hour nothing changed… it was as hot and humid inside as it was outside. The air conditioner compressor was running but the fan was not. By the time we had an air-conditioner service company repair the unit and shopped for some food, I was not in a mood to sit down and write. Saturday came and went so this is being sent on Sunday morning.

This is our last day on the road for at least a month. We will be staying in our “Park Model Home” at Sun n’ Fun RV Resort. A park model is similar to a single wide mobile home. Our Casita del Sol, as we call it, has two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, small dining area and a living area all in 496 square feet. As you can imagine, none of the rooms are large. The home also has an attached, enclosed lanai that runs the length of the home (roughly 40 ft). The back end of the lanai has a “shed” that has storage shelves and a washer and dryer.

Left side

Right side


Living room, dining room and kitchen. Master bedroom and bath in background. Second bedroom and bath behind me.

Our departure from Sarasota is tentative, but will probably be after August 16th. Susie will needs to have some physical therapy for her knee and we won’t know until next week how many sessions she will require.

I won’t be posting any daily entries which might be quite boring… we went to the pool, we went to the beach etc. However we will be doing some trips to local state parks and Celery Fields for wildlife viewing and photography and that may result in some posts.

Beaches and Southern Pines

We left the hotel in Pensacola under partly cloudy skies. The forecast is the same as always in this area in the summer… 40% possibility of scattered storms. We continues to stay off the Interstate until we neared Tallahassee, FL.

We headed south to Pensacola Beach which is on Santa Rosa Island, a narrow barrier island. Pensacola Beach occupies the western portion of the island. Most of the island between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Once you leave Pensacola Beach and its high rise buildings behind, you enter a narrow stretch with beaches on both the Gulf and Bay side. While Pensacola Beach is crowded, the beaches to the east had few people scattered here and there. I was under the impression, courtesy of Google Maps, that the road continued much further then Navarre Beach and continued on past the intersection past the causeway leading to the mainland. I quickly learned that the road only went a few hundred yards further east into a beach parking lot… U-turn time.

Once back on the mainland, we picked up US-98, which took us through Fort Walton Beach, Destin and a few other smaller beach towns. Because of the hotels and condos on the beach side of the island, you only get a glimpse of the beaches. The whole strip looks like any beach town in the U.S. with its hotels, condos and beach shops.

When we reached Panama City Beach we opted to discontinue following the Gulf coast and headed inland via US-231, FL-20 and FL-12.  The terrain was completely different than the beaches. Miles and miles of stands of Southern Pine lined the road. Most of the woods were tree farms in various stages of growth. We picked I-10 about 25 miles west of Tallahassee and were in our hotel 25 minutes later. By the way we didn’t encounter rain on this trip.

Looking back at the beaches that we passed in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida the last two days, I think I would opt for the stretch east of Pensacola Beach in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. You can stay on the mainland in hotels that are cheaper than on Santa Rosa Island, drive east to the National Seashore and have a piece of beach all to yourself. If you don’t mind the crowds, Pensacola Beach has the same powdery white sand.

Bayous, Beaches, Casinos… Oh My!

We decided to continue avoiding Interstate Highways for at least another day. The plan also included a ferry ride from Dauphine Island, AL, across the entrance to Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, AL.

We left New Orleans early because we figured that we might miss a ferry and have to wait up to 45 minutes for the next one. When we left, the sky was mostly sunny and we thought we would have a great day. We got onto US-90 in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and headed east. From the highway we could see a lot of Hurricane Katrina damage and some new housing. Ozzie, our tour guide yesterday, a Katrina survivor, theorized that many of the residents didn’t want to come back to their old homes. Many of those that were willing to come back couldn’t because they either had no proof of title or didn’t have clear title to their homes so they could not take advantage of government support to rebuild or repair.

Not long after we passed the Lower Ninth Ward, we crossed over a number of bayous. After crossing the Pearl River, which forms the boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi, the terrain started changing and we drove through thickly wooded country.

Entering Bay St. Louis, MS we started seeing our first casinos which continued until the Alabama border. In Pass Christian, MS, US-90 runs along the beaches. Around this point, the weather started changing as the clouds built up and soon brought us intermittent rain. We followed the beaches until a little east of Biloxi, with its large casinos. After US-90 crossed Biloxi Bay, we left the beaches, but could still catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.

In Grand Bay, AL we left US-90 and headed on AL-188 towards Dauphine Island. The rain became more frequent and we decided that it may not be such a pleasure to ride an open ferry across Mobile Bay. Instead of heading south on AL-193, we headed north towards I-10. Of course, the fates had some fun with us and the weather improved significantly. I-10 took us through Mobile into Florida.

We stopped at the Florida Welcome Center for a break and picked up some brochures about Pensacola. One of the brochures was about the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station (NAS), Pensacola. We decided to visit the museum. Once again fate had a different idea! When we got to within 1/2 mile from the entrance to the Air Station, traffic came to a halt. It took us about 40 minutes to get to a point where we could see the entrance to NAS Pensacola and the traffic backed up from all directions. We made another decision and rerouted ourselves to our Pensacola hotel for the night.

Not exactly the day we planned.


New Orleans Tour

This morning we did something we have never done in New Orleans in all the times we were here… we took a city tour. The tour was operated by Celebration Tours. Specifically, we took the New Orleans City Tour. Why take a tour? We have been in New Orleans many times and focused on a very small part of the city, downtown, warehouse district, and the French Quarter. This tour gave us a taste of other parts of the city so that in the future we could spend more time exploring other sections.

We had limited opportunity to take pictures because we only made one stop in City Park. The park is considerably bigger than New York’s Central Park.  It contains gulf courses, The New Orleans Museum of Art, a sculpture garden with original art, and the Morning Call Café.

Morning Call in City Park

A pool in the Sculpture Garden

Riace Warriors by Elisabeth Frink

Corridor Pin, Blue by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Imagine the diaper this held together .

We Stand Together by George Rodrigue. There is a blue dog, a yellow dog and red dog. When you view the sculpture from the angle below you get a two-toned dog.

We Stand Together at a different angle

Love, Red and Blue by Robert Indiana. We understand that this is the original sculpture

Ozzie Laporte Jr, our tour guide, gave me access to his collection of New Orleans pictures. The pictures are the property of Mr. Laporte and are used with his permission.

Decatur Street at Jackson Square

Decatur and St Louis Streets, French Quarter


French Quarter Scene

French Quarter scene

St. Charles Street

New Orleans Girl Fight Gallery

Ozzie, our tour operator dropped us off at the hotel and after a quick bite we were on the move again. We walked to the French Market and back (see dotted line on map). This is a milestone for Susie… the round trip is 2.2 miles. This is the furthest she walked since she broke her kneecap. The walk to the World War II Museum and back was the previous record at a mile. We stopped periodically to give Susie a break.

Jackson Square with St Louis Cathedral in the center background

Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square

As were walking by Jackson Square we saw this mule in training. It was spooked by a puddle of water and had to be walked through it.

St Peter Street adjacent to Jackson Square. I don’t remember ever seeing it so quiet.

Café Du Monde

Part of the French Market adjacent to Café du Monde

Joan of Arc statue near the French Market

New Orleans – World War II Museum

At mid-morning we headed to the World War II Museum. This is our third trip, the most recent being in the winter of 2015. Our local friend Tony told us there have been some new exhibits added since our last visit so we had to go. Tony got us complementary tickets to the museum though a friend who works there. We didn’t need that incentive to go see the new exhibits. The museum is comprised of the main building which houses the Arsenal of Democracy exhibit, the Solomon Victory Theater, the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, The Boeing Pavilion (houses World War II aircraft), the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.

This was the original museum building.

Solomon Victory Theater. This is where the movie is shown.

The Campaigns of Courage Pavilion

The first thing we did is to go see the movie, Beyond all Boundries. This movie evokes an emotional response from most people who watch it. Susie is in tears and I’m angry that we humans can’t seem to solve problems without resorting to war.

Our next stop was to see the new exhibit, The Road to Tokyo, which covers the war in the Pacific. We had seen The Road to Berlin twice before so we didn’t do it this time. Both exhibits are now housed in the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, which was still under construction on our last visit.

The other new exhibit, The Arsenal of Democracy, which covers the Home Front. This exhibit shows how the people at home helped with war effort.

I highly recommend that anyone visiting New Orleans makes a point to see this Museum. It takes more than the roughly four hours that we spent here today to adequately view the exhibits. I’m sure that we will visit this museum again.

We left the museum around 2:30pm and walked back to our hotel. We got to the Hotel just before a series of thunderstorms hit the area. Some of the lightning strikes were very close to where we are. I would rather be watching the light show from the inside of the hotel than be driving or walking through it.

This evening we met with our friends Phyllis and Tony for dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. The restaurant opened 1840 and is still operated by descendants of the founder. Click on the link above for more information about the restaurant. After the dinner Paul, our waiter, took us on a tour of the restaurant  and showed us some of the 14 dining rooms and the 165 foot long wine cellar. We really want to thank Phyllis and Tony for introducing us to the pleasures of Antoine’s.

New Orleans and The Delta of the Mississippi


When we got up this morning, I looked out of the window and could barely see the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, a few blocks away. We were in the midst of a fairly strong storm and the rain was coming down hard. Thirty minutes later, the sun was shining. These kinds of storms are common this time of year.

After this morning’s storm we could see beyond the French Quarter from our 18th Floor perch

We had been to New Orleans many times over the past 25 years and we are sure to be back again… the 2018 American Library Association Annual meeting will be held here. In all those visits we made here, we traveled to a lot of places in and out of the city. There are several places and things we talked about doing and wound up saying, “we will do it next time.” This trip represents the “next time” for some of the things on our list.

After breakfast we drove to one of the items on our “to do list,” Mardi Gras World. Mardi Gras World is located in Blaine Kern Studios facility on the New Orleans riverfront. The studio has been making floats for Mardi Gras parades since 1932. Our tour guide took us through the studio and described the work that goes into making the floats. After the formal tour is completed, you are free to walk through the building and take photographs of the floats and the components. Blaine Kern also makes 3D Advertising objects… if you drive down the highway and see a cow hanging on a Chic-fil-A billboard, it was made in this facility.

Susie dressed for Mardi Gras. The guy to her left looks confused and Bacchus looks frightened

Styrofoam is shaped to the desired form such as this wheel.

After the foam form is shaped, it is covered with brown paper mache and is ready for painting.

Last year this form was The Phantom. The mask has been removed and some other modifications made to turn this into James Bond in Goldfinger for 2018 float

This eagle will be on one of the 2018 floats

The participants spend hours on the floats during the parade. They come on board with food and drink (most likely alchoholic). They can’t stop to relieve themselves so the float contains two rooms with a porta potty (see door above ribbon).

Queen Kong gets a new dress painted on and a manicure every year.

Dr. Seuss characters

Susie and the Angry Bird… Hope it isn’t hungry because Susie looks like a tasty morsel

The fiberglass Chic-fil-A cows are made in New Orleans

Which is Witch

In 2009, we were in New Orleans for our nephew’s wedding and took a trip south to the river delta. Plaquemines Parish includes the last 70 miles of the Mississippi before it enters the Gulf of Mexico and we drove south until the road ended at the Venice Marina. Four years earlier, Hurricane Katrina caused major damage to the parish communities. Once we crossed the Mississippi to the right bank, we saw a lot damaged property along side the road. We decided to drive down today to see how much has changed. We only got down as far as Port Sulphur before we turned back because a thunderstorm was heading our way. We did note that little of the damage remained. New housing, a lot of it elevated well off the ground, was seen in the 40 miles we traveled.

This evening we had dinner with Susie’s cousin Kathy, husband Hal and their children David and Rachel. Since this was our first ever meeting with Kathy, Susie feels that she closed the Fabricant family circle that had been broken for about 62 years. We spoke about our respective families and started getting to know each other. We promised to get together again, certainly when we attend the American Library Association meeting here next June.

Cousins Susie and Kath

Reaching the End of the Great River Road

On this trip we followed the Mississippi River from Hannibal, MO using local roads only. While we deviated to smaller local roads, our primary route was US 61. Driving from Baton Rouge to New Orleans using I-10 would normally take a little more than an hour to complete. Staying with our plan to run on local roads took us around three hours, not counting stops. Fittingly, the second half of the trip was on US 61.

The weather forecast for this morning was for scattered storms along our route. As we left the hotel we could see ominous dark clouds on the horizon and hear the rumble of thunder. We hit rain about 15 minutes into the trip and ran through a series of showers for the next 20-30 minutes. It stayed partly cloudy and dry for the rest of the trip to New Orleans.

Our first stop was the Houmas House Plantation (see The Sugar Palace, a YouTube Video). This plantation house is called the “The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road.” As was our luck at the Rosedown Plantation, we just missed the house tour so, a bit disappointed, we opted for the self guided garden tour. The Houmas house property, which included the site of the house and thousands of acres of land, was purchased from the Houmas tribe and named after them. The house has gone through several owners and design changes. Interestingly, we know that the plantation had many slaves, but saw no slave housing.

The Oak Alley at Houmas House Plantation

East side of Houmas House

Rear of Houmas House

Neptune’s Fountain at Houmas House

Japanese Garden at Houmas House

Susie at the Japanese Garden at Houmas House

Sugar made a lot of the plantation owners rich and they built a number of ornate plantation houses for themselves and their family. Some of the mansions still exist along the river south of Baton Rouge and several are open to the public. We had wanted to see Oak Alley Plantation. However when we got to the parking lot we could see that it was fairly full and several tour busses were parked. We figured that it would take quite a while before we could get on a tour and left. Before we left I managed to get pictures of the slave quarters from the vicinity of the ticket booth. As you travel along the river you can travel for miles and have the levee on one side of the road and sugarcane fields on the other. Agriculture is not the main economic force along the river… oil production and processing plants are a frequent sight.

Slave quarters at Oak Alley Plantation

Sugarcane Fields

After we left Oak Alley, we headed across the river and picked up US 61 for the run to New Orleans, one of our favorite cities. One of the reasons we are stopping in New Orleans is to meet Susie’s cousin Kathy, who, like her sister Susan in St Louis, is a cousin we have never met.

Vicksburg to Baton Rouge

An easy travel day… only 170 miles separate Baton Rouge from Vicksburg and we only had two scheduled stops on today’s itinerary. In light of that we took it easy and didn’t leave Vicksburg until about 8:30am, an unusually late start for us.

Our first stop was historic Natchez, MS. Natchez has been a population center since at least the time when the Mississippian Culture built their community on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. They were followed by the Natchez tribe, French, Spanish, English and American traders and settlers. In the mid-19th Century, cotton was the economic engine of Natchez. Rich planters built mansions on the bluffs above the River. Many of these antebellum mansions still exist and this was one of the reasons we wanted to stop here and photograph these mansions. We learned that you can’t just stop and take pictures of the exterior of most mansions… you have to pay for the whole tour. The mansion Susie had wanted to see the most is Longwood. When we got to the gate, we were told we would have to pay $18 each for the privilege of driving around the property… we made a U-turn and left. Other mansions also sit behind walls and gates and charge a price just to get some photographs.

Our next stop was St. Francisville, LA, which is the location of Rosedown Plantation, now a State Park. We arrived just in time to miss the 1pm tour of the grounds and house. We would have to wait until 2pm to do the next tour. This left us with the option taking an unescorted tour of the grounds which came at a much lower rate than the complete tour. On the Garden tour, we didn’t see any slave quarters… slaves worked in the house and gardens. It appears that the property needs some restoration. The Rockery is falling apart and other features need maintenance.

Susie standing in Oak Allee. The trees were planted in 5 years before the house was built.

Oak Allee

Nine Italian Carrara marble statues were purchased in 1851. The four in the carriage turn in front of the house represent North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. The four along the Allee represent the seasons.

Doctor’s House.

Rosedown Planation House

The summerhouse was one of three in the gardens. The twin fountains were added in 1957.

The Rockery, built in 1858. Rock gardens were popular garden ornaments

The ladies Privy. It was a three holer.

Nina’s Wing & Milk shed. Nina was the last of the Turnbull family to live on the property.

Formal Gardens

Our final stop is Baton Rouge. This an overnight stop and we don’t plan any sightseeing in town. While camping in Williamsburg, VA,  we met a family from Baton Rouge and the adults and kids became friends. We made several trips to Baton Rouge and met them in other places. We have two plantations we want to visit tomorrow on our way to New Orleans, a little over an hour via I-10 but several hours by way of local roads.

Historic Vicksburg

A leisurely start this morning… our first stop, the Vicksburg National Military Park,  is only about a mile from the hotel.

The Battle of Vicksburg was one of the most significant battles of the Civil War because it led to the Union’s control of the Mississippi River and effectively cut the Confederacy in half. The Confederate forces had the advantage of holding fortified high ground but the Union had twice the manpower. General Grant twice attacked the Confederate lines with little gain and high casualties. Grant decided to besiege the city, ultimately resulting in the surrender of the Confederate forces.

This is the type of terrain that the battle for Vicksburg was fought on.

View from a Confederate position looking down on the Union position. Union engineers dug a tunnel under the ridge (where the cars are parked) and then dug a covered trench to allow them to get closer to rebel fortifications.

Child Medal of Honor recipient.

After the Civil War Union and Confederates soldiers worked to identify and mark battle lines and unit positions. The Battle of Vicksburg is one of the best marked battlefields.

Union line marker. Confederate markers have a red background.

Detailed Position Marker

3rd Battery Ohio Light Artillery position.

This picture depicts the Shirley house during the Siege of Vicksburg

The Shirley House today. Its owners were slaveholder that were sympathetic to the Union cause. The teenage son was a Union Army volunteer.

The Vicksburg Military Park has over 1,000 monuments. These monuments honor units from the states involved in the battle, as well as individuals.

Illinois Monument

Navy Monument

The USS Cairo Museum is within the Park and has the partially reconstructed ironclad gunboat.

Partially reconstructed USS Cairo. It was sunk by a mine. All the crew members were rescued.

Cutaway Model of the USS Cairo at the USS Cairo Museum.

The Mississippi River used to flow below the bluffs, near the USS Cairo Museum, on the north side of Vicksburg. In 1876, the river suddenly changed course and now flows on the south side of the city. It put the port of Vicksburg out of business until the Yazoo River Diversion Canal was created allowing river traffic to access Vicksburg.

After touring the Park for about two hours, we headed for downtown Vicksburg and the levee that is supposed to protect the city from flooding. Just like Paducah, the levee wall has become a place for murals. Leaving the levee, we followed the Vicksburg Scenic Tour for part of its route. The temperature had reached 97 degrees and we figured it was time to get into the air-conditioned hotel room.

The Vicksburg Flood wall has a series of murals representing scenes of the city’s history.

Flood crest markings on the levee wall. In the 1927 flood, the levee failed before the river crested at 62.2 feet.

This mural shows the aftermath of the 1927 flood. Thousands of people had to be evacuated by steamers and barges. See flood crest markers below.

Belle of the Bends, built in 1876 is one of the houses on the Vicksburg Scenic Trail.

Baer House completed in 1870.



Driving the Mississippi Delta


Our first stop this morning was the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, a short distance from our hotel. The museum is located at the site of and incorporates part of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in from of Room 306, on April 4, 1968. Because the museum opens at 9am and we had a number of places to visit on our route to Vicksburg, we didn’t spend as much time as we should have to go through all the exhibits. If you are in or near Memphis, make a point of visiting the museum and allow at least two hours to see the exhibits. Photography in the museum is permitted without flash. Low light in most exhibits made photography difficult.

Exterior of the Civil Rights Museum

Exterior of room 306. This is where King stood when he was shot.

Interior of room 306 in the Lorraine Motel. This was Martin Luther King’s Room on the day he died.

Exhibit showing how the slaves were kept below deck on the slave ship. The space each slave occupied was 3 feet high and three feet long.

Exhibit covering the Birmingham bus boycott

After leaving the museum, we picked up US Highway 61, the Great River Road. It is also known as part of the Mississippi Blues Trail. We only covered a small portion of the trail. The area we traveled through is known as the Mississippi Delta, not to be confused with the Delta of the Mississippi River. The terrain of the Delta is flat agricultural land where the highway goes straight as an arrow for miles.

There are many Blues related places to visit on and off US-61, but time constraints limited us. The main place we wanted to visit was The B. B. King Museum in Indianola, MS. B. B. King, one of the most famous Blues musicians, was born in Indianola and is buried on the grounds of the Museum. Lighting conditions in the museum were similar to those in the Civil Rights Museum.

B. B. King Museum, Indianola, MS

Bottle cap studded Gibson Guitar

We continued on from Indianola to Greenville and followed MS Highway 1 back to US-61 which took us to Vicksburg, MS.

Memphis on the 4th of July

We thought that there would be a lot of action in Memphis on the 4th of July, but it was not so in the downtown area to which we limited ourselves. Most of the action that we know of was centered on Mud Island River Park  (zoom out on map).

The first activity for us was going across the street to the Peabody Hotel to view the ducks parading to the fountain in the center of the main floor. The parade starts at 11am as the ducks descend from their rooftop home and parade out of the elevator into the fountain (watch YouTube Video). At 5pm the process is reversed. I tried to shoot a video of the parade from the mezzanine but the lighting conditions were not good. My video editing software is old and could not handle the process of enhancing the video.

The View from our hotel room is of the Peabody Hotel

Next we walked to Beale Street. Most of the action is between South 2nd and South 4th streets.  When we arrived, many of the businesses were just opening and the crowds were thin.

Beale Street Scene

Beale Street Scene

Susie and a tribute to Johnny Cash

Susie and her favorite beer… just kidding. Note the cane she uses as a prop… gets a lot of sympathy? She doesn’t use it to walk.

A. Schwab

Guitar art piece on sale at A. Schwab

We walked over the Rock and Soul Museum, located just off the intersection of B.B. King Boulevard and Beale Street. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum. It is definitely a place to visit if you have an interest in rock music. We took about an hour to walk through the museum and could have spent more time there. We returned to Beale Street and visited A. Schwab, which was once a general store and bills itself as one today.

Rock and Soul Museum

The name B. B. King came out of what he was called when he worked at WDIA, Blues Boys Kingdom.

In addition to a number of displays in other rooms, a whole room in the museum is devoted to Elvis Presley.

A display dedicated to Dewey Phillips. The main character in the musical Memphis was based on his life.

This evening we had planned to eat at the Rendezvous Restaurant, across the alley from the hotel. I have eaten there while a business trip, thirty years ago and again with Susie a few years ago. As luck would have it, we couldn’t eat there last night because it is closed on Mondays and it is closed today because it’s the 4th of July. We walked out to get dinner in a sports bar across the street when the sky opened up. Luck was on our side and the rain let up when we left the restaurant.

Last night there was a fireworks show at the AutoZone Stadium, which is one block away. We couldn’t see it, but sure could hear it. This evening a fireworks show is scheduled on the roof of the Peabody Hotel. As you can see from the first picture in this in this entry, we should have a good view. We did get a view of some fireworks from what we assume was Mud Island.


Going to Memphis


We have been on the road for two weeks and only encountered a little rain while driving from Charm to Chicago. When we left Paducah, the skies were ominous and my pessimistic side said, “we are going to be in for some rain.” My optimistic side (AKA Susie) said, “no it won’t.” Unfortunately the pessimist won. It rained on and off, and occasionally hard, for at least half of the ride to Memphis. Fortunately it was a short ride, roughly four hours.

The route took us through a lot of towns that seemed to have more life than we found on the River Road in Missouri. We saw a lot of the standard fast food places along the road and several fair size shopping malls. As we passed through Henning, TN we spotted a sign pointing to the Alex Haley Museum. It was raining so we didn’t try to stop. If we had stopped, we would have been disappointed… the museum is closed on Mondays.

Susie lost her rain jacket in St Louis so we needed to replace it. She found a Tanger Outlet in Southaven, MS, just south of Memphis. So we diverted to the outlet before heading to the hotel, arriving there in early afternoon. We stayed around the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.

When we went to dinner a few blocks away, we learned that there will be a minor league game at AutoZone Park, one block from the hotel. Following the game, there is supposed to be a fireworks show. Our window faces in the wrong direction so we may not be able to see it… we will keep you posted

On to Paducah


You might ask, “why Paducah?” It isn’t on the Mississippi River, it’s on the Ohio River. Simple… on several occasions we planned to go to Kentucky and every time we did, we had a change of plans. Since we were passing this close, we decided to make a small detour so that Susie can claim her 50th state.

As we frequently do, we left St. Louis very early and headed down the River Road, which is US Highway 61 at least until Cape Girardeau. Our plan was to stop at the historic towns of Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau and Cairo on the way to Paducah.

Once we left the St. Louis Metropolitan area, the terrain became rolling hills and we could not see the river. Ironically, US 61 is part of the Great River Road system. When we entered Ste Genevieve, the road signs directed us to the historic area and the visitor center. The person on duty suggested that we see the historic houses, many dating to the mid-18th century. We spent some time looking at the homes from the outside… most of them were not open until later in the morning.

Antoin & Parfait Dulour

Jacques Guibord House