Friday, 28 February 2014

Westwego LA to Santa Rosa Beach FL (360 Miles)

Late Post from Thursday, Feb 27th

We left Westwego and Bayou Segnette State Park about 9:30 a.m. The morning was nice with blue skies and it was a pleasant but cold change from the rain and wind of the previous few nights.  It is a most unreasonable feeling getting up in the middle of the night to ride your bike to the bathroom in the rain – yuck!!! But, it does add character, I am just not sure if it’s the type of character that I want!! The route to go east out of New Orleans took us , once again, back past downtown. It was funny that even after just a few days of in and out at the state park, we started to recognize things.

 
 
Mississippi River, one more time....
 
Soon, we were headed east bound and on a very long causeway over part of Lake Pontchartrain over to the city of Slidell, on the eastern side of New Orleans. It was quite nice over there. It is away from the hub-bub of the “Big Easy”. We really enjoyed our time in New Orleans and in Louisiana for that matter but it was time to move along. Our route today would take us through Mississippi, Alabama and then finally the “Sunshine State of Florida”
 
Long causeway over Lake Pontchatrain into Slidell, which
is east of New Orleans.....
 
 
It is a bit of a lengthy drive but not too long after Slidell you cross into Mississippi.  We took the I-10 to Hwy 43, which led us down to Hwy 90, going through Waveland and Bay St. Louis. The highway then just travelled all the way along the Gulf of Mexico coastline, through many small towns and big towns like Gulfport and Biloxi. It was just stunningly beautiful.  On one side, you have the Gulf of Mexico and the beautiful white sand beaches and on the other side some really beautiful large and small homes. Many of the large ones looked like rambling, old plantation homes and many of them were meticulously well cared for. I am sure, being across from those beaches, they are very expensive. You could stop just about anywhere along this road too. They had lots of pull-outs and as far as we could see, there was a nice sidewalk that travelled alongside it too. We loved it. If someone had asked me to go to Gulfport or Biloxi MS, I would never have thought it would be so nice. I would jump at the chance to stay there now after seeing this whole area!!
 
Welcome to Mississippi!! (Our 8th state on this trip)

Sidewalk goes for many miles!!

One of the many  beautiful homes....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did the obligatory Walmart grocery trip and got stocked up, once again. Then it was back on the road for a while again. We tried to stay off the I-10 as much as possible but ended up having to go back on to it at Pecan, MS. Right after we got on it,  we were in the state of Alabama. Wow!! We were not in this state for very long but check out some of these pictures. The downtown area looks really nice. They have a very long tunnel that runs right by downtown and then you go on another long causeway again. 

...and Alabama, our 9th state, welcomes us now!!!

 



 
 
Up next came the change over into Florida and on to Pensacola. It was here that we took Hwy-110S south, just before Pensacola and headed down towards Gulf Breeze. We wanted to travel, once again, off the interstate and we took Hwy 98, all the way. It was rather strange to see so many big towns, running one right after the other in an area that, for some reason, we had thought would be quite remote and quiet. Not sure where we got that idea from but we both had it. It was a bit disappointing to see hotel after hotel and big shopping plazas everywhere (fancy ones too). It is a very touristy area and somehow, for us, not as nice as Gulfport or Biloxi had been.
 
10th state for us is Florida...looks a bit like the Alabama flag, doesn't it??
 

 

 

 
 
We kept on Hwy 98 until we got to Grayton Beach State Park, in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, which is part of what is known as the South Walton Beaches. We did not arrive here until 5:30 p.m. Normally, we like to arrive and be set up by about 3:00 pm. It allows you time to walk about and get your bearings in a park. Due to all our touring around on the slower roads we were quite a bit later but we sure enjoyed the drive more. We are all set up here.
 

 
We have read some very nice things about Grayton Beach State Park. It is located just a short bike ride (on bike paths) to the little hamlet of Grayton Beach. It seems to be filled up some really neat little stores and quirky things. We are pretty excited to do our exploration. Apparently there are 18 miles of bike paths around here!!

Here is the “odd” part of our next week. We are here for Thursday & Friday nights in Site #23.  There are no availabilities in this park for Saturday night (March 1st). We have to move back down to another state park, Henderson Beach, for Saturday night. Then we come back here to this same site #23 for Sunday night. On Monday morning, we must move to Site #17 (just a few yards down the camping road) and we will then be there until Friday morning (March 7th) CRAZY, huh?? But, after what we had heard about it here, we felt that all the juggling around was worth it. There is a teeny, tiny possibility that a spot may come available (due to a reservation change or cancellation) here on Saturday. The nice ranger said to check with her on Friday morning and afternoon and again on Saturday before we leave. Maybe something will come available and we won’t have to move!! Here’s hoping and fingers crossed!!
So, internet and blogging plan for the time here at Grayton is this: We will endeavour to ride our bikes each morning/afternoon into town where we will post from an internet café (like today we are at Bad Ass Coffee!!). You will always get the post the day AFTER it has occurred that way I can still write it in the same way I usually do. You will all just have to “pretend” that I am doing it in the evening and you are reading it the same evening!! It seems that this is the way Florida may go. Unless we are at a private park, we do not think that the state parks have internet but they are SO much better than the private parks – and cheaper too!! We can still get phone calls and we can check emails on the cell, plus my kids know that they can text message us too. We feel better not being totally cut-off.
Peace....
Thought for the Day: Over thinking kills your happiness (so does over planning!!)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Westwego (Day 3)

This morning at 5:30 a.m. the alarm went off!! It didn't really matter because neither of us had slept well due to yet, another, storm that rolled through the area, dumping a ton more rain. Naturally it wasn't complete without a spectacular lighting and thunder show!! YIKES!!

But I digress. Why, you ask, did the alarm go off at such an ungodly hour??  Well today we volunteered with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (NOAHH)!!! This is something we have wanted to do since retirement and we finally got to lend a hand at a home in the Upper Ninth Ward.

I will tell you the little bit I know about NOAHH. This home is already spoken for. A gentleman, his girlfriend and their 3 children are currently residing in a small duplex. It only has two bedrooms, they share a kitchen with the other tenants and they have no stove at all. In order to qualify for a home under the NOAHH program, a person must have a full time job with a reasonably decent credit history. They must prove that they are living in undesirable conditions and are requiring a change. Now, once they are accepted into the program, it goes something like this: They get to pick their own lot, out of the HH inventory. Currently in New Orleans, HH has approximately 150 lots but normally there are about 15 to choose from that are "site-prepped" . This gentleman was awarded a 4 bedroom home as he has 3 children. They are allowed to pick the exterior colour, flooring, kitchen cabinetry, etc. Habitat does all the interior painting the same colour, even the trim. It is easier than having volunteer painters have to try to "cut-in". So all doors, trims, window jams, walls, ceiling are done the same colour (the new homeowner can change it once they are in). 

The homeowner will end up paying about $600-700 per month for 20 years. This includes property taxes, mortgage payment, insurance, (even flood & termite). The homeowner MUST stay in the home for a minimum of 10 years. It cannot be rented or leased out.
In exchange for all this the new homeowner has the following obligations. He must put in 100 hours at the Habitat Re-Store facility (like a second hand building supply store), 150 hours back into his own house during construction and 100 hours back to someone else's house. The new homeowners are also given classes on home maintenance, a schedule on what and where to check for things. Also, budgeting classes and even cooking classes. NOAHH is trying to really help improve people's lives in all ways. 

Nolan was in charge of this site. He is originally from Chicago area and he is apparently "freezing" here in Louisiana, apparently not what he bargained for four months ago!! He is full time staff with NOAHH. One of the interesting things he told us is that by the time the house is finished, approximately 1,000 people will have helped in it's construction, most of whom have little or no knowledge of construction, from any point of view. He says it is amazing to see it come together. Some parts of the job are actually "subbed" out, like the more detailed things like the electrical, plumbing and dry walling, it's just easier and everything must be done to code and is inspected each step of the way. But, just a little bit from many people makes a difference, thus the reason why we have wanted to help out to an area that was so devastated. We had made available to NOAHH our time for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They could only manage to put us on this site for Wednesday. (which is strange again as Nolan said he could have really used us yesterday). I guess they make up the schedule and if some of the volunteers don't show up (...gasp???) then they can be short-handed, as they were yesterday. Too bad as we could certainly have helped then as well. Problem with today was that much of the work needed to be done outside and it was a raging mud-wallow out there so that was cancelled. We were all kept busy at small and large tasks inside. But, Nolan decided that a shortened work day was in order. Normally they get started at 7:45 a.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m. (with a one hour lunch break). At any rate, we were glad to be a tiny part of something bigger.

So with all that information under your belts, here are the pictures from our day.


The drive in past downtown New Orleans - think it might rain??
The site was about 18 miles from the state park we are staying at.
 
Just to refresh everyone's memory, this is what 80% of New Orleans looked like
after the floodwalls gave way after the storm surge in the lake. Remember, it was the floodwalls that really caused so much of the devastation, even more than the storm itself. 
 
This will make a pretty nice home, approx. 1200 sq. ft. 

Everyone starting to get themselves sorted out.

I tasked myself with sweeping out all the carpenter debris out from in between
the studs and around the rooms. Makes for a safer workplace!!
 
See these steel bars? They are screwed with a top and bottom board to screw (temporarily)
into the windows for security. Nolan said he was surprised each day that he came
to the home and it had not been broken into. Bit of a tough area here. It's a bit
sad that people would break into these homes, knowing everyone was trying to
help put this area back together, isn't it?
 
You can see Doug & Gunter with their "posse", putting up the first temporary,
window security system. Nice job guys!! Later I helped him on these.
I think there were 12 windows altogether.....
 
 
Sorting out more tasks..... 
 
 

Next, Doug & I were tasked with adding caulking that seals and prevents
any up or down draft into the attic or under the home during a fire. It is put on 
any place there are pipes and electrical wires that go upwards through the
top studs or down into below the house.  
  
The house next door is actually for sale. Anyone want a "fixer-upper"
in the historic Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans?? It is so rotten looking
that we were amazed that it was still standing. There are also still
lots of houses here that have the search & rescue "X" on them.......  

 

Bit of a worn out neighbourhood.....
 
 
So that was our day. No pretty pictures today, just work things but SO worthwhile and we both feel really good about even helping out a little bit. So many great people involved in these programs. I made a little silent wish in my heart for the family. I hope they have good health, good safety and a wonderful life. This will, hopefully, make an amazing new start for them. Good luck!!
 
We have really enjoyed ourselves here in Louisiana. I am not sure why, but I did not think I would come to like it as much as I have. Laid back, nice people and beautiful scenery. Thanks Louisiana - especially for the free laundry!!
 
Tomorrow we leave here. We will be travelling along the I-10 (again) for about 350 miles so it will be a long day (Hey, I might even use the old crock-pot!!). We are travelling through the states of Mississippi and Alabama on our way into the Florida "panhandle". First stop is at Grayton Beach for 2 nights. We wanted to stay for the whole week but they are very busy so we have to hop over to another state park (Henderson Beach State Park) for Saturday and then we come back to Grayton Beach State Park on Sunday where we stay until the morning of Friday March 7th. After that....who knows where!!
 
Just a word of warning. Not sure of the internet situation at the next spot. We do know that we can walk (30 minutes) or ride into the cute little town of Grayton Beach and that there are spots there to use the internet. We may have to do that each day, not sure. Just don't worry if you don't see us up on the board on Thursday, okay? But, to be fair, it is nice to have folks thinking about us!!
 
Peace....
 
Thought for the Day: Many hands make light work.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Westwego (Day 2)

Just a note from last night. We bought another one of those King Cakes. Really, they are just a glorified cinnamon bun (only drier) and the ones I buy are pretty small but we find them perfect for sharing. Now, I am not sure if it means anything but  on the one I bought, the baby had his bum up in the air - someone's idea of a practical joke. I think they are just tired of decorating these King Cakes!!

 

Nothing today!! Just hung around and Doug had to do a bit of maintenance. Our water pump in our fresh water tank seems to have gone "bye-bye". We had to take the whole back end of the van (where we sleep) apart for him to analyze it. Luckily for us, it was not raining.
 

So, this is the back area where we sleep!! All the "bit & bob's have
been removed to access the water tank!!

...and there is the water fresh tank.

I would have dialed the "1-800" help number by now!!

If this doesn't go well, I am not sure where we will be sleeping.
This compartment is a bit too small!!

 This is my attempt to take a photo (while Doug was working) of the Red Cardinal.
It seems that I can't even get my telephoto lens to get close enough - I will keep trying!!
 
So, remember those crawfish (mudbugs)?? This is their "mound". Now, I took these photos in a field at the picnic area of this park. This shows you how they live underground and this is, I guess, their air hole!! 
 
 

 
 
Doug, always patiently waiting for me to finish
my National Geographic assignment!!

Snowy Egrets. They are not the most co-operative subjects so
I was happy enough to get this shot!!

Some people REALLY get into the Mardi Gras theme. Good thing
they have a 40 foot diesel pusher to store these decorations!!


Okay, slow day for sure. Tomorrow's excitement is.......working a day for Habitat for Humanity at a home in New Orleans!!!! This is one of the "bucket list" things I wanted to do since we retired. Give a little back to a community so hard hit by a disaster. we have been assigned to a home (not sure what part of New Orleans it is in), about 18 miles away from the park. We will be out of the park for the day from about 6:30 a.m. (does this mean the alarm has to be set???) until about 4:30 p.m. They want you on the "site" at 7:45 a.m. and they finish up at 3:30 p.m. We are pretty stoked about helping out. Should be a great day. Stay tuned for that post tomorrow night!! Until then....

 
Peace.... 

Thought for the Day: If you smile lots, your wrinkles will be in the right places when you are old!!!

 

Monday, 24 February 2014

New Orleans LA to Westwego LA (14 Miles)

This morning we packed up and left Jude Travel Park in New Orleans. Thanks to Marla & Kevin for a great stay. Please, if you are coming by New Orleans, stay here, it is close placement to all the action. (www.judetravelparkofneworleans.com).

First place we stopped was back at City Park (remember the Sculpture Gardens from our tour the other day?) Well, it was recommended to us by Marla that we go up there for one more café-au-lait and beignet feast at Morning Call Cafe. She said that was where she and her hubby went for their treat. Since we had already done the famous Café du Monde in the French Quarter, we gladly accepted the tip and headed up there. I must say, it was much more peaceful being back up at City Park again! This café has been open for over 100 years in this park, so longer than the more famous Café du Monde.

That is the café you see through this pagoda.....

If you look really, really hard, just to
the right of the umbrella post, you can see faithful Euri...

Here you add your own amount of powdered sugar, which I liked better....

Okay, just dive in....

...and you end up with powdered sugar pretty much everywhere!!

I believe these are Muscovy ducks. Apparently they get fed
way too many beignets, but they just waddled into the outdoor seating area!!!

 

More of those gorgeous old trees with Spanish moss....
 
 
After our little feast (and I believe it will be the last café and beignet feast our waistlines and arteries can take) we left town for our new stay at Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego. The freeway systems work pretty good all around the city. I like them better than in Texas because they move just about 60 mph, instead of the breakneck 70 mph. Here are just a few pictures along the way..... 
 
On route past the famous Superdome....



 Bridges going over the Mississippi River

...and there is the river!!
 
So, here we are at Bayou Segnette State Park.It is located in Westwego, which is only about 14 miles from New Orleans. Once in the park, you would never know a major city was anywhere even close. Besides, we love the state parks…..and since it is still Louisiana, there is still free laundry!!  Oh, and the Wi-Fi seems pretty good, for now anyway!
 

Park is super nice. Very clean and sites are pretty generous. Ours is a little funny, because if we had backed in (like is normal) the door opens on the wrong side according to the table and fire pit placement.  The nice thing about a small rig like ours is that we can just pull straight in. something big rigs and trailers cannot do!!

Apparently the park is sold out (mostly due to Mardi Gras). There
are still lots of empty sites but they should be filling up shortly this afternoon....

Not sure if this site is long enough for us....
 

Lots of standing water from the storm of yesterday....
 
 

 

 

 

Super nice boardwalks all over the park....

Snazzy washroom/laundry building....not so close to us though!

...and the really snazzy Mardi Gras sign post #67 for the Beglaws
(just in case any of you were planning on visiting over the next few days!!)
 
Quick lunch then off for a bike ride....
 
New floodwall by the bayou. These gates are H-U-G-E!!!

  
All the way along this road (which is part of the state park) there used to be cabins
(pre-Katrina). They will never be re-built. Someone told us that the state blamed Katrina but actually, the cabins were full of termites and that is why they fell apart so badly!!
Guess that's insider/local knowledge!!!
 
Cabin driveways....
 

 

We are on the watch for armadillos and a furry, rat-like animal called a Nutria. It looks a bit like a beaver without the fancy tail. The locals, apparently, eat them and we were told by our tour guide the other day to be careful about buying anything with any kind of pelt on it because it is probably “rat” as they call them!! No problem, not much into wearing fur anyway!! Supposedly they are huge (about the size of a beaver), nasty and they are becoming an invasive problem for Louisiana. The folks around here were quite pleased that thousands of them were killed during the floods but now they have come back even stronger. Anyway, this is what they look like, according to my research:
...and they have big orange teeth!!!
Not so lovingly called swamp rats by the locals.....




 
We will be here until Thursday morning. We are looking forward to some biking around here on Tuesday that’s for sure. Looks to be great! Hopefully the Wi-Fi holds out too!!

Peace…..

Thought for the Day: The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention....