Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Houston and Galveston

From New Orleans, we headed to Houston.  

The campground where we stayed wasn’t very nice, crowded, over-priced, muddy, but it was convenient to the Space Center.

We toured the Space Center, which makes the last of the Space Centers.  We have now been to the NASA Space Center in Florida, the Huntsville Space Center, and the Houston one.  Houston wasn’t our favorite, but interesting just the same.  We took a tram tour of the Johnson Space Center.  We saw some of the astronaut training facilities, Rocket Park, and, most interesting to me, Mission Control.  In Mission Control, different roles were identified and explained.
Unbelievably, neither of us took pictures that day!  I’m glad we got to see it.

Next stop was Galveston, where we stayed at the Jamaica Beach RV Park.  Folks we had met in Key West several years ago, Betty and Lee, were staying there for the season.  We enjoyed the stay there, got to walk on the beach, took nice walks with our pup out behind the park, visiting with Betty and Lee.

Next stop:  San Antonio, Texas!!

sunset in Jamaica Beach

nice paved walking path

sunset picture, #2

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

New Orleans!

From Huntsville, we drove to New Orleans, to the RV park on a Reserve Base on the west bank in Belle Chasse.  Finally, the temperature were higher – 50’s during the day.  Our first whole day there, we purchased a 3 day on/off bus trip around the city.  Turned out to be a great investment!  We drove the truck into the city, with Tugboat inside, and parked.  The idea was, since it took about 30 minutes to get into the city (and another 30 to return to the camper), Tug would be better off waiting in the truck for us.  It worked out very well.

That first day, we went to Café Du Monde, to get the required café au latte and a beignet.  It was raining steadily, but, even so, the café was pretty crowded.  A young woman was looking for a seat, and we offered to share our table.  She was in town for an interview and we had a very enjoyable conversation.  We visited the Visitor’s Center, got some suggestions.  Walked around the French Quarter a bit, then rode the bus around.  When we had had enough of walking around in the rain, we decided to try one of the suggested places for lunch.  On the way there, we saw other places that looked promising – two guys standing there encouraged us to try the one place.  We went in, but they were closing.  The waitress there recommended Mr. B’s, just down the street.  Excellent choice!  We talked to a couple from Savannah at the bar, who strongly recommended the cookbook.  We did buy it, and the chef autographed it!  Later, as I read the book, I got excited about some of the Creole dishes that I can make once I get my whole kitchen back at home!  After that meal, it was time to make our way back to the truck and Tugboat – he was fine, but was certainly ready for a walk.

On Day two, we again drove into town, parked the truck and Tugboat, and walked around for a bit in the French Quarter.  It being lunch time, we stopped at a likely looking spot for a wonderful meal.  We then found the closest bus stop, and rode around their loop to the World War II Museum.  What an interesting, engaging, touching place.  We could have spent much more time there.  Part of the experience was a movie about Dday – I came away with tears, as the movie had ended with a line of soldiers, who turned into the current day men (my father’s age).  Oh my, so touching.

There was quite an extensive exhibit and films about the Japanese internment.  It was hard to see all that.
One of my favorite parts was a room that was filled with pieces of art, each one created using pieces of glass from churches and cathedrals that had been bombed.  A Navy chaplain, then a young man, had gathered pieces of these windows as he visited the various sites of bombed out churches.  He packaged each collection and mailed them home.  Each package was used by a different artist to create very different pieces of art.  I was so impressed and touched by the thinking of that young chaplain in gathering those pieces.  As you will see, from the pictures below, I was most impressed and enjoyed the art pieces.

After the WWII Museum, we hopped back on the bus, rode over to the French Market, and hiked the 7 blocks or so back to our truck and Tugboat.  After giving him his walk, we went back down the street to the “Irish Cultural Museum”.  No food served there, but they did have Jamieson’s and Irish coffee!  We took Tugboat there, since they had a large patio and dogs are welcome.  In talking to the owner, he suggested we go next door (which was indeed a dive), get some crawfish, and bring it back to eat there on his patio with Tugboat….Sounded like a good idea, so that’s what we did.  That was our first, and likely our last, experience with crawfish!  Seemed like lots of work for very little pay off!  But, it was interesting and fun, and, I think, a requirement for a visit to New Orleans!

The third day, we used our bus passes to ride around once again – it was interesting that each time we rode the bus, we got a different guide.  We lucked out and got our favorite, Ellen, twice!  We had planned to take the Garden District walking tour that day, and exited the bus there, on Magazine Street.  Since we had some time to wait, we stopped in an Irish bar, had a beer and some delicious and very fresh oysters!  The walking tour was very crowded, so we decided to skip it.  We went on around the loop to the Kern’s Mardis Gras warehouse.  Very cool!  I never thought I wanted to go to Mardis Gras before – now I do!  We learned about the kreu’s (not crew, but kreu) who pay for the huge elaborate floats and the ‘throws’ (trinkets for the crowd).  There are no corporate sponsors, just regular N’awlins folk who like to party.  That day, we stopped near the base, and had another terrific New Orleans style dinner at a restaurant called Zydeco.  Gumbo and barbequed shrimp for me, a seafood platter for Dan – both pretty good.

Mardi Gras figure

Satchmo, Louis Armstrong!

our cute and funny guide

On our fourth day in New Orleans, another rainy day, we had decided to do some maintenance, some laundry, and lay low.  On one of my trips to the laundry room, I had one of those delightful encounters that are a part of this traveling life.  Kathy Bowen and I started talking – discovering that they are full timers in their RV, are on pretty much the same route as we, are interested in doing the Great Loop, have a son in the Navy in Norfolk – pretty much have parallel lives!  We went to dinner with Kathy and Tim, and had a wonderful time.  I know we will see them again.

Fifth day here (pretty remarkable, since we had planned on two nights….), we decided to drive the 60 or so miles to the southern end of the Mississippi River.  We had been to the beginning of the river in Minnesota a few years ago.  The southern end isn’t as easy to spot, since there are dikes on both sides of the road.  Once we saw signs of “high water” on the road, we turned back!  We stopped at a local restaurant, Changes, for some red beans and rice, fried catfish, a Po Boy sandwich with shrimp and oysters.  Yumm!  Then we stopped at Fort Jackson.  The Fort is closed, but we walked around it and up on to the dike overlooking the swiftly moving river.  There are huge ships going by, just like we see up in the Great Lakes.

Cafe DuMonde

beautiful church in French Quarter

love the trees and the architecture

Jackson Park

more of the typical architecture

outside sculpture

bronze sculpture in a shop

another sculpture in the shop

one piece of art in the WWII museum made from glass fragments

another piece of art in WWII museum from cathedral windows

another piece of art from bombed cathedrals' windows

explanation of the art pieces

the man who thought to collect those pieces...

Hotel Monteleone bar, with merry go round!

beautiful clock in Hotel Monteleone

sadly, Hard Rock Hotel that collapsed during construction

Drove as far south as possible from New Orleans - saw (outside only) of Fort Jackson.

Fort Jackson

Fort Jackson

Big ship coming up the Mississippi

...Switching from boat stories to camper! First stop: Huntsville, AL

We spent the Fall at home in Michigan -  After the holidays with church and family, it was time to switch gears to our camper...Let me back up just a bit, though.  Last April (2019), we left Key West with our truck camper.  We had been camping in an older Jayco 5th wheel that we left in storage on the base for the past 3 years.  While we loved it, the storage area we had been using was eliminated.  Also, the number of camping spaces on Trumbo was to be greatly diminished – we weren’t sure that we would be able to get a space there in 2020.  Therefore, we had decided that we would try going to Arizona instead.  Having no storage spot for the 5th wheel, and it not being particularly road worthy, we were able to sell it to someone in Key West.
I knew (not so much Dan) that I was pretty tired of traveling and living in a truck camper.  We had decided to keep our eyes peeled for a small 5th wheel, either on the way home or after we got there.  What we ended up finding and buying, a 31 foot tow behind, was not at all what we wanted. But, the price was affordable, the unit was a newer one, and there was lots of room inside. We should have waited, because right from the beginning we did not like that trailer!  We got it home to Michigan, where the tanks promptly froze…Dan had to use a heat gun in the 20 degree temps to thaw the tanks enough to drain – he said “NEVER AGAIN!”  We took it on one 2 week trip to Florida in November – that experience just solidified our opinion of the camper.
Flash forward to January – Dan had been looking on line for a smaller 5th wheel and had located several. He got me involved in searching.  My interests (and therefore my search parameters) are different than Dan’s.  Right away, I found a 2017 Puma 25 ft. 5th wheel with the kitchen in the rear.  In looking at the floor plan, we both decided that we may have found the ONE!  And, it was only about 10 miles from our house.  The next day, we drove there, checked it out, loved it, and negotiated a trade and purchase deal that we could accept.  We delayed our planned departure date for a couple of days to allow time to move out of the old camper and into the new one.  This one is everything we wanted – lots of cabinets and counter space and pantry for the cook.  Plenty of hanging locker space and other storage for everything we needed to take.  The under space is enclosed and, when the heater is running, the tanks get enough heat to keep them from freezing!  Yay!
NOW, I’m back to the beginning of our January 2020 trip.  We left on January 17, Friday morning – that night, the home folks got several inches of blowing snow.  We missed that bullet! 
As we traveled south, we expected that the weather would get progressively warmer, as had been our experience for the past 9 years.  Not so this year.  First night, we were on an Army base outside Indianapolis.  Freezing cold temps – we got in after dark, didn’t even unhook the camper.  Stayed inside and warm.
Next day, we got as far as Huntsville, Alabama, at the Space Museum RV Park.  Once again, FREEZING!!  We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Space Museum.  My youngest grandson, Isaac, age 10, is very interested in attending Space Camp there, so I took lots of pictures, asked lots of questions – I got excited for him!
We enjoyed seeing the displays in the museum and walking through a mockup of the International Space Station.  We saw where the Space Camp kids sleep and eat.  Their rocket launching site was right at the campground.  Interesting to see that in all the trees surrounding the launch site were remnants of the balloons from their rockets.  I would love to see the actual launching of their rockets – the camp kids must be so excited!
From Huntsville, our next stop is New Orleans – SURELY it will be warm there!
Here are a few pictures from Huntsville.

cool programs for Space Camp

nice program, send postcard to the ISS

quite a few current astronauts started in the Space Camp

cafeteria for Space Camp

pictures from the ISS

mockup of the ISS with Space Camp kids doing a repair

entrance for Space Camp sleeping quarters

cool building for Space Camp dorm

note balloons in trees surrounding rocket launch site 

launch their rockets from behind this screen

The 2019 Cruising Season That Wasn't!

beautiful sunset from the repair spot we were 'stuck' in!

The 2019 Cruising Season That Wasn’t!!
There are two ways I could approach writing about this past cruising season.  One, write a detailed account of all the mechanical problems we had, where we were, what was done.  Two, just sum up the season and include some nice pictures!  I’m going with option #two! 

We were one of the last boats in the wintering shed in Algonac, Michigan, so of course, we were one of the first boats out.  We got the boat in the water in early April.  Since our plan for the year was to spend most of the time in Canada, we hadn’t planned on leaving home on the boat until late May (waiting for warmer weather!).
You’ve heard the saying “Men make plans, God laughs!”  Well, we had plenty of time in April and May to get some work done on the boat, make some small ‘shake down’ cruises, and to be ready to set out on our planned big trip.  I made a trip to Colorado to visit my sister and my daughter/family.  While I was gone, Dan put a new sink in the boat – I had vigorously complained about the two small round sinks in the galley since day 1.  Dan put in a larger double sink that makes my galley life much better!  He also accomplished a number of other items on his to do list.  We bought a new larger dinghy, that will better accommodate both of us plus our 100 pound pup, Tugboat.  Dan found a suitable outboard that will move it through the water efficiently.  We hope to be able to anchor out on this trip, meaning the dinghy became important.  Traveling with a dog does create some dilemmas.  We plan to try and train the pup to go on the boat, but we are not sure that will be successful.

Late in May, we took Travis and Lisa and the one available grandchild, Isaac, on a brief cruise on the river near Algonac.  Travis and Isaac tried fishing, but this is just not the style boat to make that work very well.  We took an overnight trip to Port Huron.  That town has made great strides in recent years and seems to be doing well.  I got to see Rory Curtis and his step-daughter –I’ve known Rory since he was very young – his dad was my previous husband’s best friend.

Dan had had the fuel injectors for both engines cleaned and reconditioned.  Once we returned from Port Huron, we were dismayed to find that fuel was leaking into the oil crankcase…..a lot!  And, that began the odyssey that lasted all summer and into September!  We never got more than a two hour’s car drive from our home.  We spent time in three marinas on the Detroit River, Kean’s, Milliken State Park and Marina, and Grayhaven Mooring Facility.  Through several attempts at fixing the problem, we were able to keep one of our vehicles at the various marinas, go home frequently, bemoan the passing of the cruising season!  Oddly enough, while we were frustrated and tired of paying for the various repairs, we still enjoyed our time on the boat and with each other.

The first morning we were at Milliken, we looked over and saw a boat, Grumpy.  We recognized the boat name from the looper forum we read each morning.  We introduced ourselves to John and Jessica.  They were from Alabama and had never been to Detroit before.  We took them on a Detroit adventure for the evening.  We ate at Traffic Jam and Snug, the oldest brewery in Detroit, checked out Shinola, a unique Detroit store, and played feather bowling at Cadieux Café in East Detroit.  What a hoot!  Grumpy left the next day – at least they got a good sense of Detroit.
At one point, we hoped the problem had been resolved, so we cruised down to Put In Bay, on Lake Erie.  On the way there, Dan was concerned with the oil pressure on the troublesome port engine.  We cut that engine off, and, while I piloted the boat, with one engine, on into Put In Bay, Dan went below to check out the engine.  Sure enough, the engine room was a mess of oil and fuel.  OK, so we DON’T have the problem fixed!  We spent a pleasant time in Put In Bay (on South Bass Island) for two days.  That place reminds us of Key West in many ways.
We were able to find a good diesel mechanic in Port Clinton, Ohio, not far from Put In Bay.  He works out of a boatyard there, and we docked at the boatyard.  There were none of the usual marina facilities, but they did have a dock with electricity!  Most of our time there, about a month, we were the only boat there.  The property is several acres, surrounded by water and fencing.  Tugboat liked it – he could spend lots of time on and off the boat, chasing geese, sniffing and peeing everywhere.  We did have to be careful that he didn’t drink the lake water- Lake Erie had a serious and deadly algae problem. 
Anyway, after several other attempts at fixing our problem, we found ourselves in mid-September with pretty much the entire boating season gone by!  We cruised to Kelly’s Island for our test run, got stuck there an extra night because of weather, but the engine was finally finally fixed!  Our next stop was Toledo at the National Museum of the Great Lakes.  From there, we cruised back up the Detroit River to Colony Marina, our home for a few weeks before the Kittiwake got put away for the winter.
Now, for some pictures from this cruising season.

Kittiwake coming into Milliken Marina

Dan under the dash, almost all 6'2"of him!

bridge coming into Port Huron

Tug in his safety vest!

One iteration of the fuel pump removed...

The famous "Grumpy" in the marina

John doing his best!

Jessica trying her hand....

nice shot coming into a new marina

Detroit skyline

old Boblo building on the river

marker on the channel  to Detroit
golf carts  in Put In Bay

Put in Bay island fake palm tree!

pretty arbor by the ice cream shop on Put in Bay

at our spot where we spent weeks waiting for repairs/parts

Tug loved roving freely on the grounds!

ramp from boat to dock, sometimes under water!

loved the sunsets!

daily visitor!

beautiful sunsets!

never tired of taking duck pictures!
was able to take my grandson to Mackinac Island!

We had a great time!

before picture...needing work!!

in process.....

final product - what a difference!

Tugboat getting some of his expected loves

even in the unlovely marina....

you find beauty in otherwise unlovely places!

love the birds!

every day....