New Orleans 2017

How much do I love New Orleans? Enough that going twice last year only made me want to go again this year. Twice. In the summer.

The first time was in June for a conference. The second was a couple of weeks ago. Third week in July is absolutely as late as I was willing to go and flirt with hurricane season. Turned out to be absolutely correct in that I had the trade off of Hot as Blazes and summer season hotel rates, but I only got really caught in the rain once. But now the city is flooded again.

The idea was to go places that I don’t normally go. I stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. Right on the streetcar line. Lovely staff, reasonable rooms. Two first world complaints: They use old school keys and if you lose yours, the fee is $250. And there are no ice machines so you have to call down to have it delivered. Oh, and the mini-fridge is of the mini-bar variety so it really isn’t usable. I was at the corner convenience store at least twice a day.

So. Official Story of Summer Vacation 2017:

After breakfast one morning (doughnut at District Donuts) I walked over to the Lafayette Cemetery. At the main entrance, a man sat in a lawn chair with a cooler filled with bottled water. Selling them for a dollar each. Excellent.

I went in and wandered a bit, then heard what sounded like a crying puppy. I was all, “If this is the beginning of a Crying Puppy Vacation Adventure, I will go off. The. Rails.” Turned the corner and saw a small black cat. She had a pink collar with a heart shaped tag. She let me approach and pet her, but I couldn’t get a read on the tag. Then she strutted away and hopped up onto a tomb and I took this:

Cat2

She seemed to belong there, so I walked on and saw this:

EmptyTomb3

 

Now, I had heard of Save Our Cemeteries, so I figured this was cool, but still wondered: Where, exactly, are the remains?

A few minutes later, I saw an older man, rather sunburned but quite cheerful. He asked if I was looking for anyone in particular. Apparently, he knew where everyone was buried. I said I wasn’t, but asked if he could tell me about the cat.

“Ah, yes. Her name is Sasha. She lives in the neighborhood and is here all the time. Was she wearing a collar?” I confirmed that she was. “Good. She doesn’t like them and sometimes manages to get out of them. Very friendly.”

He told me that he was a volunteer with Save Our Cemeteries and would be happy to answer any other questions. “OK,” I said. “Can you tell me about that empty tomb? I imagine it is being restored now.” He confirmed that it was. “So where are the remains?”

“Want to see?” He asked.

I could feel my eyes bug out. “Uh. Sure!”

He led me over to a large tomb that had temporary wooden doors in front. Looked like barn doors. He looked about and said, “I’m really not supposed to do this, but.”

He opened the door and I saw several Rubbermaid containers, like the ones my mother uses to store Christmas ornaments, on the bottom “shelf”.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s very..clever.”

He explained that because of the heat and humidity, the remains (including the caskets) decompose very quickly. If I looked up on the top shelf, I could see some actual bones. I stood on my tip-toes and looked.

“You’re going to have to get closer,” he said.

“Uh. No, thanks. I’m good.”

“Yeah,” he said, closing the door. “I’m starting to smell something unpleasant.”

We talked some more..about Lafayette (I was pretty sure he had no idea what he was talking about) and Confederates and restoring tombs.  And he told me that you can only visit the cemeteries by the French Quarter if you are with a tour group.  I certainly hadn’t needed a tour group when last I visited..but that was pre-Katrina.

I asked how I might contribute to the work of Save Our Cemeteries. “You can just give me cash.”

Uh huh.

Well. It took me 2.4 seconds to decide this was probably a con. But Dude gave me an official vacation story and if he was misrepresenting himself as part of a charity, that was on his conscience. So I handed him some cash and moved on.

Later (like five minutes ago when I checked to make sure it was the LaFayette Cemetery that I visited) I saw that empty tomb.  It was always empty! Dude was full of it.

And I regret nothing.

 

Singleton Travel

I am a single woman and I like to travel.  Nothing too exotic so far, just the usual places on everyone’s bucket list.  Because the world is big and I only have so much vacation time (and there are several places I return to again and again), the decision factors are Cost and Safety.  Tour groups are great for safety if you are going someplace for the first time, but the “single supplement” often makes it cost prohibitive.  The hospitality industry has made great strides in catering to singletons, but it is still easier to manage travel in pairs.  In fact, there are a couple of tour groups that were created to solve this problem – they manage guided tours for women and will hook you up with a traveling partner.  I still might do that someday.

Last winter, my friend K posted a question on Facebook:

Can a single woman go to the Caribbean for Spring Break and feel safe without spending a fortune?  There was a really good discussion thread that concluded..not really.  I lamented that she is on a school district schedule, or I’d invite her to winter vacation with me.  But late February is as long as I can wait before getting cabin fever in Chicago.

This past Spring, I decided to plan a trip to Europe and I immediately thought of K.  We went to high school together, and I can’t say we were particularly tight; “inside school friends” as opposed to “neighborhood friends”.  But I’ve always liked her and she has the same problem I have and she lives in the next town over and why in hell haven’t I seen her in 20 years?

So I sent her a message with my thinking and asked if she wanted to have coffee and talk it over.  She agreed and we met on a Sunday at the coffee shop in our hometown.

We didn’t shut up for three hours.

Then we traded messages about places we thought we’d want to go and found plenty of common ground.  We found flights and hotels and sketched out an itinerary.  We’re going to do this.

I really love Facebook.

 

The Lava Lake

You might know that I have been vacationing in Hawaii – the Big Island – for the past several winters.  And I plan to continue doing so until I run out of miles, points, and money.  With each trip, I stay on the Kona side and take a day trip to Volcanoes National Park.  Because it is a volcano.  And it is active.  And that is cool.  This is the view from one of my favorite lookout points:

View 1

When you walk up to that ledge, and look down, you can see a great big, flat surface of lava rock.  And depending on the weather, there are hikers down there.  The first time I saw it, I went right back to the car to look at the map and try to figure out how to drive down.  I couldn’t figure it out.  It took two more trips (there’s other stuff to see!) before I realized that the only way down there is to hike it – the Kilauea Iki Trail.  And of course, if you hike down there, you have to hike all the way back up.

This year, I looked at the map and read the stats:  four miles and 400 feet – which doesn’t sound bad at all.  The catch was “moderate to challenging”.  The estimated time to hike the loop is two to three hours.  I had one bottle of water and one package of trail mix.  It was 10am, the sun was shining and I had stopped to pee a half hour before.

I went for it.

Obviously, the climb back up is physically more difficult.  But mentally, when one might still change one’s mind…the entire climb down, there was an argument in my head:

Voice 1:  It’s not too late to turn back.

Voice 2:  Shut up.

Voice 1:  You’re old, you’re fat, you’re out of shape.  You think one yoga class a week makes you a hiker?

Voice 2:  …..

Voice 1:  Look at this pre-Columbian staircase!  If your mother could see this…

Voice 2:  (starts taking steps two at a time)… (Not really)

Voice 1:  You’re going to pass out!  In public!

Voice 2:  It wouldn’t be the first time!  Wouldn’t even be the first time in a National Park!

Strictly speaking, that second part isn’t true, either.  But you get the idea.

And then, I was at the bottom of the lava lake.

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The trail is not difficult to follow, once you figure out which “stacked rocks” you are supposed to follow.  And once you’re at the bottom, there is nothing to do but keep going.  I did see a couple of fools hiking around in flip-flops, though.  And you know what?  The climb back up was not a problem.  I turned back for a last look before leaving the rock and getting back on the dirt trail, and I realized that I’d already been climbing.  I was all, “That must have been 100 feet!  Only 300 more!”  It was probably less than half that, but whatever.  The steepest part of the climb was more of a natural ramp than stairs, so I picked the right direction for my loop.

This was easily in the Top 10 Best Things I Have Ever Done on Vacation.  For 1.4 seconds, I considered taking a selfie.  I’m totally doing it again next year.

(Note to self:  Parked at the first lot, as opposed to the Lava Tube lot.  And turned right, away from the Lava Tube.)

Vicksburg – Day One

We arrived in the afternoon and the door to the Library Suite was open.  The first thing my brother did was take a picture of the chess board.  “So we know where all the pieces were.”  I remember that one of the white pawns was missing and a rook was in its spot – upside down.  Then down the wrought iron spiral staircase to the bedroom/wine cellar/morgue.  Just the right combination of creepy without feeling dirty.  Then, the bathroom.  Scott took one look at this and said, “You know blood is coming out of that thing, right?”

 

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And so the horror movie jokes began.  We unpacked our stuff – my poor brother had to lug his camp bed across the lawn, into the house and down that staircase – and then took a walk around the property.  Again, excellent combination of from-another-era but cared for:

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Outside, by the pool were a couple spending the weekend for their anniversary.  Apparently, they had gotten married at Cedar Grove several years ago and they told us all about the place. Scott was talking to the husband and the wife asked where we were from.  When I said, “Chicago” she asked how we came to stay here.  “Online,” I replied.  “I was looking for hotels in Vicksburg and Tripadvisor had a pretty convincing review that said the place is haunted.  We’re staying in the Library Suite.”  She did a double take and said she didn’t know anything about that.  As we were walking away, I recounted the conversation to Scott.  They got married here and couldn’t speak to the ghost stories?  How very horror movie.

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant that night.  The food was decent, but pricey.  The service was terrible.  Then we went back to the room to take more pictures and see about the ghosts.

First, the Library was also a game room – hence the chess board – and the decor was very dark, Victorian masculine.  The fireplace was no longer operational and the lighting was insufficient so we brought a lamp upstairs from a bedroom end table.  Then I took these:

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As I circled back around to take a picture of the game table, something odd happened.  There was a shaft of light on my phone that I could not see with the naked eye.  I looked up and down four or five times before finally snapping this:

 

Light that made no sense

 

See the diagonal shaft of light?  That’s what I’m talking about.  It was dark outside.  The lamps were not pointed in that direction and to the left of the picture are the door to the room – then closed – and the dark fireplace.  The reflections in the glass bookcase don’t explain it, so I am at a loss.

We had heard that “manhandling” the books was the fastest way to make the ghostly gentleman of the house angry, so we decided against it on Night 1.  I took a shower in that ancient tub and managed to soak the entire bathroom.  Also, the drain was painfully slow which bothered me a lot.  By the time I was ready to climb into the bed, my brother was watching Sharknado 2 on the television.  So much for ghost stories.

 

 

Road Trip 2014: How it Began

Road trip 2014 started with..I blocked a week from my work calendar for a vacation and then didn’t plan anything.  By the time I got serious, the ticket prices had skyrocketed.  At the same time, I had decided that I have not had enough summer and I wanted to be someplace where I was absolutely certain the weather would be balmy.  I was looking at New Orleans when my mother – who can’t stand the idea of my being in New Orleans by myself even though I have been there plenty of times before – reminded me that Vicksburg, Mississippi has been on my road trip bucket list for awhile.

Why, yes.  It had.  It’s a History Nerd thing.  Don’t judge.

So I started looking for hotels.  I came up empty with my usual suspects – chain hotels where I have points or status or something useful to keep the cost down.  Then I went to the website for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and found they have a whole lot of Bed and Breakfast places where the prices were quite reasonable.  Because, you know.  Who wants to be in Mississippi in August?

This Yankee.

So that is how I found Cedar Grove Inn.  It was once one of those old antebellum mansions in town that became and B&B and has since built out to have 33 rooms, a bar, a restaurant and a swimming pool.  It looked like a lovely place to sit outside and read books.  So I clicked over to Trip Advisor to read the reviews, and the first one I found was a guest that had experienced a haunting.  You might want to take a minute and read this.

IMG_1849

Filtered picture I posted to Instagram when we arrived.

Short version:  the Library Suite is a two-story room.  The library is on top and the ghostly gentleman of the house seems to hang out there.  The bedroom is down a spiral staircase in what had been a wine cellar…and later, during the siege of 1863, a morgue.  The dead soldiers were kept there because it was cooler.

Damn straight I wanted to stay there.  But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stay in the Library Suite by myself.  So I started asking everyone at work.  Stay at the hotel, they said, but not in that room.  Yeah.  That wasn’t the only room that was haunted.  It just sounded the scariest.

When I told my sister-in-law, Becky, about the place she said:  “Oh, you need to go there.  And you need to stay in that room.  And you can take your brother with you because he needs a vacation.”

It took a little bit of schedule juggling, but I booked the Library Suite the next day.

Summer in Washington

I travel to Washington DC several times each year.  There are some things I do (nearly) every visit.  I make a pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial.  I have dinner with my friend, Holly.  I have lunch at the Atrium Cafe.  Now, I am also trying to see things I don’t always see and appreciate them more.  So here it is:

Fountain

 

And I just realized that I don’t remember where I saw this fountain.  I want to say it was behind the Natural History Museum, but it might have been behind one of the buildings in the National Gallery.

Because my office is on the..Jefferson Memorial side of the Mall, that is generally the way that I walk.  But the other night, I walked over to the White House instead and was on Constitution Avenue rather than Independence.  I found myself looking at the street entrances of the museums, rather than those facing the Mall.  And there was the fountain.

And here is the (Instagram filtered) obligatory pic of the White House.

White House - Filtered

Note to my mom:  I didn’t take a pic, and I had seen the statue before, but I just realized that General Sherman and his horse are looking right at the Treasury Building.  I’m not sure that’s where I would have placed him.

On the way back, I took this picture because it looks weird to me to see the monuments from this angle.  It’s like seeing the Sears Tower behind you when you are driving to Midway.  (That is the Jefferson Memorial on the lower right.)

Monuments

 

And then I went to the District Chophouse for dinner.  According to Foursquare, I hadn’t been there in over a year.  But I really appreciated that burger.