Off to Epcot, the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” showcasing the two “lands”: Future World and World Showcase. p.s. Gertie came up with another good one: Instead of saying “parking acc” (for access) she says “parking account”. I swear she is retarded. Anyway, stop one was Spaceship Earth which is a geodesic sphere that contains a ride- through adventure highlighting milestones in communication from the earliest prehistoric cave paintings to the satellite technologies of today and the possibilities for the future. The ride was awesome (we finally got to go on one) and they take your picture as the ride first starts and towards the end they superimpose your picture on figures that takes you through the future. Totally awesome.
The next stop was Universe of Energy which stars Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) who take us on an odyssey through a primeval world full of prehistoric trees, fogs, volcanoes and battling dinosaurs that gives us the blueprint to how energy has formed, but there is only one energy source that will never be depleted – it's brain power.
Next: Mission: SPACE – A ride simulating an exciting mission to Mars in a space capsule and each of us assigned a role (pilot, navigator, engineer or commander that mainly consisted of pushing two buttons when they lit up – wheee), and had to maneuver around the moon to an asteroid-dodging pinpoint landing on Mars. It really was fun.
Next: Test Track - The longest, fastest ride in the park that allows riders to get an insider's view of the exclusive world of auto testing. It was incredible to race around the track with 50% banking and other obstacles – my favorite!
The next two we skipped: “Innovations” which features toys and tools of tomorrow and “Epcot Character Spot” where the kids meet Mickey and pals for photos, autographs, etc., but the line was too long.
Next: The Seas with Nemo & Friends where we boarded a “clamobile” to an animated undersea world on a quest to find Nemo. Then on to “Turtle Talk with Crush” where you can gab with Crush, the 150-yr-old sea turtle who's always ready for a little conversation on the hydrophone with humans. It really was cute and funny and he had an internal camera that actually had him focus on different people and simulating an actual conversation and said “dude” a lot. And then my favorite: “Soaring” - A bird's-eye view of Calif provided by a breathtaking glide over the majestic natural wonders of the Golden State by literally lifting us forty feet aloft into a giant, projection-screen dome using breakthrough motion-based technology. This exciting, wind-in-your-hair adventure ride took us over towering redwoods and waterfalls, snowcapped mountains, expansive deserts and the crashing waves of the Pacific coast, providing an extraordinary sensation of free flight and the aerial journey is intensified with the fragrance of orange blossoms and pine trees. The animation throughout the park, exhibits and rides were totally out of this world and mind boggling and if there is only one park you can make Epcot is the one to go to. From there we went to the World Showcase that features exotic cuisine, entertainment, artisans and cultural ambassadors dressed
in traditional costumes from 11 countries (Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, Canada and the American Experience). The journey begins around a 40 acre lagoon (1.2 mi) where pavilions dot the shore with re-creations of architectural landmarks and historic landmarks and historic scenes built with finite attention to detail, the bldgs, streets, gardens, and monuments giving an authentic visual experience of each land.
Now for the downside: Just as we were coming from lunch it rained, but for just a little bit. Then, ¾ of the way around the lagoon the sky opened up accompanied by thunder and lightning. We only had 3 rain ponchos, but by the time we got them on we were drenched and poor Bob didn't get one at all. Everyone scattered and tried to find shelter, but it was too late. There was no let up so all we could do was finish going around the lagoon and finally to the car. It poured all the way home and everything, including us, was soaked. Also, a lot of food vendors sold fried turkey legs and it was a little disturbing to watch people walking around eating them. Yuck
So that is our Disney World experience, but to really experience it all you need to spend 2 days at each park and you can get back in the next day at the same park for free, but we just didn't have the time. There were several rides I'd really have liked to have gone on with the girls, but Bob doesn't do “thrill” rides and besides I didn't want to wait in a long line.
Ran down to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral. We walked around exhibits of the rockets and shuttles and watched an 3D movie “Space Station 3D” at an IMAX theater that let us join the Space Station Astronauts as they live, work and adapt to months of weightlessness. It was really interesting to see how the ISS (International Space Station) was formed from beginning to present time. The 15 nations participating are the US, Canada, Japan, Russia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. I knew some of them but not all.
We then took a 2 hour bus tour of all the facilities where they build and test all modes of space vehicles. It is very complex, but interesting and a got a special view of an actual rocket (the Discovery) on the launch pad at Canaveral that will launch in a couple of weeks. We also got to experience a simulated launch to Mars in a capsule. Actually, the hype was a lot better than the actual ride. Rather than go into a long technical narration of all we saw (buy a book) the most interesting fact that we learned was that all the manned space shuttles launch from Kennedy Space Center and all the satellites and equipment are launched from Canaveral since 1976. Also, before the end of the decade, NASA astronauts will again depart from KSC to explore the surface of the Moon and this time, they are going to stay, building outposts and paving the way to venture even farther. The centerpiece of this system is the new Orion (shaped like an Apollo capsule, but 3 times larger) designed to carry 4 astronauts to and from the Moon, support up to 6 crew members on future missions and deliver crew and supplies to the ISS which will be called the Constellation Program. Coupled the the new lunar lander, the system will send twice as many astronauts to the moon's surface and will be able to stay longer and will carry enough propellant to land anywhere on the moon's surface. All this, of course, depends upon our illustrious Congress to support the program. They should – they support everything else.
They made a stop at the museum, but the girls still had to pack and we had to stop at the store to get lunches for them for the plane. We got them a couple of “Snackables” (crackers, cheese, meat and a juice). When we went through Security at the airport they opened the boxes and confiscated the juices – no liquids in any form. Also, the storm was coming in and we got to the car just in time before it opened up again.
Had to get up at dawn to get the girls back to the airport. They no longer fight like cats and dogs so was a pleasure to have them. Ali is 14 has no interest in fashion, makeup or boys (completely opposite her mother at that age) and is only interested in her dog training and shows and food. She is always ready to eat and don't know how she stays so slim. She has a terrific sense of humor so we did a lot of laughing. Syd is 10 and I finally have someone in the family like me – she is neat and tidy and is interested in fashion, plus has a sense of humor. I will really miss them. The trip to the airport was uneventful, but once we got there we went around and around looking for the over sized vehicle parking (we have a pod on the truck roof which makes us too tall for the parking garage) and were finally directed to the overflow lot which was 15 min away from the terminals. The shuttles came every 10 min, but since I had the scooter we had to wait for the handicapped equipped one. We had got there 2 hrs early, but by the time we got back to the terminal and through Security, the plane was already boarding. At least there wasn't time for a long goodbye. Got back to the shuttle pick-up area and the first shuttle couldn't take the scooter, but would call another one for us and when the next one (45 min later) said his lift was broken, Bob exploded. All of a sudden his lift appeared to be working. I don't like airports anyway, but this one is the most confusing I've ever been at. Orlando is a fairly pretty and has beautiful flowering trees and shrubs, but the economy has really taken it's toll, even with the presence of Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, etc, but as I mentioned before, most of the people were foreigners. A lot of the restaurants have closed, along with car lots and new construction has stopped mid way. We are off again tomorrow so better close and get this in the mail.
Are last little outing was to the store. On the way we passed a beautiful Buddhist Temple. Took some photos but did not go in.
It was a beautiful drive to our next destination, but we had at least $10 in tolls. FL is so beautiful, green and lush; however, they have had a lot of rain this summer which helps. It was apparent that the economy here is bad as we went through the smaller towns with closed stores and “for sale” signs everywhere. Our destination was Indian Creek RV Resort at Fort Myers Beach (the city of palms). At first glimpse Fort Myers didn't seem to be hurting because of the economy until I started noticing closed car dealers, a lot of homes for sale and empty store fronts. It is still a very beautiful place and I wouldn't mind living here if it weren't for the humidity, snakes and bugs. Crocs won't bother you if you don't bother them. I never liked Palm trees, but the only ones I had been around was CA and didn't know there were as many varieties as there are here and they are really beautiful. Indian Creek is part of Sun RV Resorts that has several other resorts in FL and cater mostly to the retired. This one has over 1300 sites, most of which are mobiles, park models and stationery RV type residences. They have all the amenities: 3 pools, 21 small lakes, several game sites (horseshoe pits, tennis and shuffleboard courts, etc) and lots of activities, but all the sites are very close together and are expensive. You buy your own home and pay lot rent and utilities. If you are situated around one of the lakes, the rent and utilities can run as much as $1300/mo. The transient RV sites are located among the residences which I wouldn't like if I lived here, plus they are tight getting into with a big rig. In fact, when Bob finally got our rig angled in he had run over a sprinkler head and it spouted a big stream of water at least 15 feet in the air, landed right on our satellite dome and, of course, caused a leak in our TV cabinet again. Bob is on the roof now fixing the spot that caused the leak. He also has fixed the molding on our slide that allowed the rain to come in and soak our carpet. These rigs can be very nerve racking at times.
We decided to tour the Everglades before the weekend and the crowds. First discovered by the Seminole, Calusa and Miccosukee Indians it was called “Pa-hay-okee” meaning “the grassy waters”. (A side note is that many runaway slaves lived with the Seminoles and were eventually assimilated into their culture). The Everglades house many species of animal, bird and mammals and because of earlier attempts at farming, logging, oil speculation and hunting, many of these species have become endangered. The conservationists finally stepped in and because of its fragile ecosystem and unique environmental qualities, the United Nations designated this park a Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and in 1979 designated it a World Heritage Site. One of the most tragic losses is the Florida Panther. There had been 200 in the park, but now less than 10 are left. It is also the only area that both the Crocs and Gators live, many of which are also endangered. The Everglades is a complete living park, from the river of grass to the birds in flight and is part of the larger FL ecosystem consisting of about 8,000,000 acres and is a land slightly tilted toward the sea forming the southern peninsula of FL. It is the most ecologically threatened in the nation. Some 1400 miles of canals and 125 water control structures restrict the historic water flow to the park which are critical to restoring as nearly as possible the historic water flow. The swamp is very shallow and depends totally on the areas rainfall. We had wanted to take an air boat tour, but they are fairly pricey so decided to just drive through. There is so much vegetation, trees and grassy meadows you don't become aware that it is not based on land, but water until you specifically look for it. We walked about a mile on a boardwalk out into the swamp, but did not see one animal or bird. It was getting ready to storm and it was hot, so they were probably all hunkered in. We took a 20 mi scenic loop on an unimproved road which, at first, wasn't too bad. Then it became more pot hole than road and because it had rained the pot holes turned into small ponds one after another and the swamp almost level with the road so gets washed out a lot. We were doing well to get up to 10 mph and, needless to say, it was a very long, bumpy drive and to top it off we only saw one wildlife specie – an alligator. We did see a lot of Snowy Egrets, but they are everywhere. The park is amazing though – just the wrong time of year to see anything. One stretch of highway used to be called “Alligator Highway” and at the time was only a 2 lane road. The gators would come up to sun themselves on the road which slowed down traffic greatly. Now it is a 4 lane divided highway with fences along both sides. Of course, we had our share of rain. In fact, there has only been one day since we have been in FL that we haven't had an afternoon t-storm. Here it just starts earlier in the day than further north.
Aug. 8 & 9 - Spent the weekend at home getting ready to pull out Mon. and Sun night we had a beautiful lightning storm to the East of us. It was very cloudy and the lightning lit up the whole sky for over a couple of hours, but the storm never got to us. The NASCAR race was postponed Sun due to rain and ran Mon, but by running our generator (mostly for air conditioning) I was able to keep the TV on going down the road so got to see the race. The car air just isn't sufficient to cool the coach down in this heat so need the coach air running also.
It should have only taken us 5 hrs to get to the Keys, but because of a lot of construction, 2 lane roads and low speed limits it took us a lot longer. The drive down was very pretty in some areas and shabby in others. There is the Atlantic on one side of the hwy and the Gulf on the other, but there is so much vegetation on both sides you can't get a good look until you go over a bridge. The water is shallow so has many colors from green, aqua and various shades of blue, depending upon the depth.
We got into Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina in Big Pine Key (about 40 mi north of Key West) just before dark. It is located on the Gulf of Mexico side of the highway. The other side is the Atlantic Ocean. There is all the amenities and a lot of permanent people living here, but the RV sites are pull-thrus and level. It is haphazard and there doesn't seen to be any regulations as to what kind of structures you can have on your site and is pretty laid back. We are a couple rows from the water, but can see some of it from our front window.
Tues we ran down to Key West and what a tourist trap that is. The streets are very narrow and trying to get through with a car is a challenge. There is every type of scooter, moped, bicycle and electric car for rent and is the only way to get around. Bob was stationed here in the late 50's and did recognize some of his favorite haunts (bars), but it has grown immensely. At that time all there were were bars and churches, but now there is one tourist shop after another and all the marinas and tours. We took a train trolley for a 2 hr tour through the old part of the city and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are chickens running all over and are protected. They originally came from Cuba for cock fighting and when that was outlawed they were just turned loose. It is so crowded and overrun with people I could never live here, plus they have high gas and utility prices. They outgrew their utility capability long ago and have to get it from the mainland. We had a couple of squalls that went through, but we are getting used to that.
We then took a tour of the Truman Little White House which is one of the most historic places in South Florida and a Presidential retreat for 6 US Presidents (I had never heard of it). It originally was built it in 1890 by the USN to house the base commander and paymaster as a duplex. It was then turned into a single home and in 1946 visited the Keys for a mini vacation and fell in love with the area and the house and used the house 175 days as both a retreat and functioning White House from 1946 to 1952. The many people using the house includes Carter, Colin Powell, Thomas Edison, JFK and the Clintons, plus many functioning dignitaries for summit meetings, peace talks, etc. and where new policies and the Dept. of Defense came into being. It has the original furniture from Truman's time and the original poker table presented to Truman by the Navy and it is absolutely beautiful. He loved his poker and played with several dignitaries, but gambling was frowned upon so this was kept absolutely secret.
Bob just had to go to Sloppy Joe's Bar which was an old haunt of his when he was stationed here and also a favorite of Hemingway. It is still just as famous as then and really has a great sloppy joe. Afterward we went ocean front and all the evening vendors and performers were setting up. We stopped long enough to watch a fire eater and a huge cruise ship departing. Bob was getting tired so didn't stay much longer. Just a side note – We have been from the beginning of U.S. 1 in ME and the end in Key West. Natives are called Conches (pronounced konks).
History of the Keys (what we call “islands”are called “keys” here) – In 1513 Ponce de Leon named the Keys Los Martires (the Martyrs) because the rocks appeared like men who were suffering. When the Spanish landed they named the area Cayo Hueso (meaning Island of Bones) During the Indian wars they could not bury their dead because the ground could not be penetrated so the land was covered with bones. Anglos eventually turned that into Key West. Pirates came and went after being chased by the US Navy Pirate Fleet. As settlers prospered, the Calusa and mainland Native American tribes dwindled. The Atlantic green turtle became an important industry and the settlers farmed Key limes, tamarind and breadfruit. In the Upper Keys pineapple farms flourished during the late 1800's and early 1900's and canning was profitable. From the mid 19th century high quality sponges became the lucrative industry. During the same period cigar makers from Cuba established factories in Key West and railroad tycoon H. Flager built his impossible railroad “that went to sea”. In he 1930's the railroad went bankrupt and the famed Florida Keys Overseas Hwy was born. The necklace of islands begins south of Miami and the Florida Keys are connected by the Overseas Hwy's 43 bridges, one 7 miles long, over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The area is divided into five sections including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key (where we are) and Key West. The old railroad turned highway was very narrow and is now replaced by newer, wider highway, but the old one can still be seen. Many famous people come and go and have homes here, including Jimmy Buffet, who wrote many songs about the Keys.
We backtracked to the Theater of the Sea which is a miniature version of Sea World, but still very good. We had a guided tour up close of marine life exhibits that included sea turtles, tropical and game fish, sharks, stingrays and gators and crocks. They are noted for rehabilitating wounded sea turtles. They also had various varieties of parrots and were entertained by a great performance of the parrots showing off their intelligence. We also had a live performance of a pair of dolphins and then a sea lion. There was also a very short open bottom boat tour of their lagoon featuring the dolphins. For a small park it was quite entertaining. They also have special programs where you can swim with the lea lions and dolphins and take a fishing and/or snorkeling excursions.The weather has been in the high 90's and everyone says this has been an unusually hot summer, which figures since we are here.
We left Thurs for Peace River Preserve in Wauchula FL which was a long drive. It is a TT/NACO park but very well kept up and has upgraded to 50 amp sites. Most of these parks were built in the 70's and most haven' been upgraded, but this park is very pretty, level sites on grass and the river winds around it (with gators of course). This is one of our “free” parks so will be here a week even though there isn't anything to tour, but trying to save on our expenses after the Disney World expense. We need a little down time anyway. Wauchula is not a very pretty town, mostly farmers and a lot of Hispanic. We went out for Mexican food, but none are still open – some fast food places still exist, but most of the restaurants are closed and Walmart is 20 miles away. After this we will be heading back to Suwannee Music Park (another one of our free parks) for a week before heading to the Gulf Coast states. I haven't heard from my son since they moved to San Antonio, which is par for him, but if I don't hear soon we will cut short our stay and explore other parts of TX.
We didn't do anything worth writing about and are headed back to Suwannee tomorrow.
(No photos this time. Bob had an operator error transferring the photos to the computer).The drive was pretty with all the orange groves and some towns had beautiful housing developments, but some of the smaller towns were pretty shabby and a lot of places for sale and/or closed. Pretty sad. Suwannee had a big event on the coming weekend so we had to park in a big meadow, but still had electric and water – no sewer, but we will only be here 6 days. The only problem with parking on grass is the ants. They were into everything and we are both covered with bites, but finally, after putting down traps and the park treating the grass around us, they are under control. They were even in the bedding, which all had to be washed so it really has been a hassle. It's a good thing the girls weren't here.... Well, the traps and treatment didn't work. We hate to put Raid down because of the cat when I finally remembered some of my cleaning products were also repellents (I get all my cleaning, soap, laundry, etc. products from a private ecological company) and it seems to be working – finally!
They had a big event this past weekend in the meadow next to us called the Gator Chomp Romp. There were several vendors, including Bud and Pepsi selling food and drink and 8 different bands playing over the 2 days. We could hear the music, but mostly the base (boom, boom, boom), which really gets to Bob. There were a lot of people here, golf carts everywhere and were funny to watch as people started getting drunk. They have a lot of music venues during the year and all but one night they have music in the Music Hall. It is mostly karaoke during the week and different entertainers on the weekends. You can also get dinner and beer, but we aren't into karaoke so don't go there very often. As I mentioned the last time we were here this place is huge and we didn't get to explore the whole park so this time we wandered around the horse park section, which is mostly primitive camping, but can get lost very easily. They don't offer public horse rentals anymore, but people can still bring their own horses in and being so large there are lots of miles of riding paths.
Back to the ant situation. The day before we left I thought we had the situation was under control until I went to get a shirt out of the closet and my clothes were covered with ants! I freaked. The smell of my perfume and/or deodorant must linger even after washing. We finally got them all off, but what a job. I was not happy.
A few fun facts about FL – It has 30 lighthouses along its shoreline - more than 600 freshwater springs with 33 first-magnitude springs, more than any where in the world – 882 islands or “keys” in the Florida Keys – more than 10,000 historic sites on the State and National Registers – the state marine mammal (the manatee or “sea cow”) is closely related to the elephant – 485 species of birds – the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture located on the campus of Florida Southern College – home to the most comprehensive private collection of Salvador Dali's works (Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg) – has 3 north-flowing rivers (the St. Johns, Ocklawaha and Withlacoochee South) – the largest and oldest collections of Tiffany glass (Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park) and the largest Spanish restaurant in the nation (Columbia Restaurant in Tampa established in 1905).
Left FL on our way to Alabama. It was a pretty trip with all the greenery, shrubs and trees, but after a while it got monotonous, but I couldn't take any pictures because it rained most of the way. In fact, the last 50 miles it poured so hard we had to put our flashers on and creep along, but it let up just as we got here – Styx River Resort in Robertsdale, AL, which is right across the border from Pensacola. It is another large resort with a lot of permanent residents and you need a map to get around, but at least had a guide to show us to the site. The RV sites are close together, but fairly level and mostly in a wooded terrain. We still have a few ants that caught a ride with us, but nothing we can't handle.
The next day we needed to go to Walmart which was about 20 miles away. One of the items I needed was new shoe laces (Sophie chewed through mine), but all they had was neon colored ones for kids. What is this country coming to when you can't get the basics? We also need to get new kitchen table chairs, but neither Camping World or Walmart had them. One of them collapsed when Ali sat in it and the others are not far behind. I hate to pay shipping to get them through a catalog, so just have to keep our eyes open.
My ant bites started itching during the night so got up and put some anti itch stuff on. What a mistake! I thought I had gotten rid of the tubes I was allergic to, but still had an old one and in the middle of the night I didn't pay that much attention so woke up the next morning to a rash and welts all over my arm and shoulder, which is a better location than the last time, but it sure itches and looks horrible. At least at this age I can blame my stupidity on having a “senior moment”.
Another day we backtracked to Pensacola and some of the Gulf Islands. Pensacola was a disappointment because it was pretty shabby and run down – even the waterfront. We did stop to tour the renovated original village, but it was closed; however, we did get a few pictures of the outside of a few houses. Then we took a long bridge over Pensacola Bay to Gulf Breeze, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The park includes 12 units stretching eastward 160 miles from Cat Island, Miss to he Okaloosa Area east of Fort Walton Beach. There a lot of white beaches and Bob was going to take the pathway in the National Seashore Park, but was warned of the ticks, snakes, etc. so didn't bother. The shorelines here are okay, but like the New England ones better.
Bob's niece and husband live here in Foley, AL which is only 20 miles from Styx River, so were able to get together with them and went to dinner on the shoreline of Bon Secour Bay where there were a lot of shrimp boats, but just a small portion of what there used to be. It is so sad to see the devastated lobster and shrimp industries.
We ran over to Mobile the day before we left and of all the cities we have toured Mobile impressed me the most. Before we went on our scheduled tour, we toured Fort Conde, (the tour leaves from there) . This fort is really haven't felt the loss of economy others have. Also, they have built a major cruise ship port and building. In fact, there was a cruise ship in port and they are the home port for the USS Alabama, but we didn't go on that tour. It was rather pricey and we have seen others like it. Mobile was founded in 1702 as the capitol of the Louisiana Territory and is home to an array of cultural influences with its French, British, Spanish, African, Creole and Catholic heritage. It also the home of America's Junior Miss pageant and the birthplace of Hank Aaron. Another interesting side note is the difference between the Creole and Cajun ethnicities – the Creoles were of the higher class and were the bankers, shop owners, etc. and when the Cajuns moved in the Creoles decided they were dumb enough to buy their unwanted swamp land, which they did, but the worm turned when the Creoles found oil on that land and beca
After we left Mobile we headed south to Daupin Island via a long bridge over Heron Bay. After a short drive eastward we took a small ferry to more of the Gulf Islands. The ferry ride only took ½ hour but went by many oil rigs scattered around Mobile Bay and, of course, many Pelicans. The island was fairly barren and the houses all built on stilts and surrounded by sand. Actually, they were pretty ugly and I am not fond of nothing but sand. They were still worth seeing and glad we took the long way home.
Headed west to Biloxi MS to Martin Lake Resort, which was a fairly short drive, but still had to have our major rain squall which was fine because it wiped off all the bugs on the windshield. They have a strange black type of fly that has a head on both end, but one end is the dominant one. They are really creepy and are everywhere. The original section of the resort isn't very big and some of the permanent rigs are pretty beat up, but they opened up a new section with nice long cement pads. It is located right on Martin Lake, which isn't very large but has a great swimming area. They also have a pool which seems to be the only amenity besides miniature golf.
Since we sprayed for ants Bob has been hacking and coughing and it got so bad we finally went to an emergency room and got the meds and a shot for bronchitis. He is doing a lot better now. After the visit we drove along Biloxi's shoreline, which goes forever with beautiful white beaches and, of course, a lot of casinos, but we didn't have time to stop at that time. Got all our shopping done and stopped for a very late lunch (hooray – don't have to cook dinner). I am a very basic eater so haven't really been fond of the Southern food, especially their BBQ, coleslaw along with their grits, hush
We went to one of the casinos for dinner, which was so-so. I had prime rib that was cut entirely differently than any I have had before and was rather bland. We played some slots, but only lost $12 between us so wasn't bad. Their casinos here are big and showy and a heavy tourist draw, but tourism is down 60% because of Katrina. There are several casinos along the waterfront. The section where they are located is called Casino Row by the locals. There is a couple of casinos located off of the main row but most are on the waterfront.
We took a train/trolley tour of the old section and the devastation from Katrina is still very much in evidence. What buildings that were still standing are still under renovation and there is block after block of empty lots. What houses that were spared are also still under renovation and people are waiting to get back into them. The guide knows about everybody in town and as we went through the neighborhoods the residents would wave and say hello. Very friendly. She talked mainly about the residents and how the storm affected them – very different type of tour and was very heart rendering. The storm forecasters said the storm was not headed for Biloxi, which was why everyone was caught off guard. On the last part of the tour we were near the beach and the daily storm that comes in from the Gulf hit and was blowing the sand so hard that it was hitting us and it really stung and even blew one of my earrings off. The rain started just as we got back to our car. Biloxi means “1st people” and was first established by the Spanish then later the French. It has gone through a lot starting with a devastating fire in 1902 and 3 subsequent hurricanes. The people are very resilient to say the least.
Thurs we left for Abita Springs RV Resort in Abita Springs in LA which is about 40 mi NW of New Orleans. It has several ponds and a lake, but no swimming because of the resident gators. They also have park models and cottages. There are a lot Muscovy ducks which are weird looking ducks with the red on both sides of their head and the red bumps here and are very friendly and total mooches. One of them sat by our door waiting for a handout for a couple of hours and the next day he/she was still there so I had to break down and give it some bread. I found out they are Muscovy Ducks. They have a large rec hall with a kitchen and still have meals on the weekends – cat fish, etc on Fri and steak and salads on Sat so we went there on Sat. They also have card games every night, including Texas Hold'Em on the weekends so Bob is excited.
The temps are going down, but the humidit4y is still high and really starting to bother Bob's breathing. The night we spent at the casino didn't help because of the smoking. With this sticky humidity those obnoxious black bugs are really thick and the front of our rig is covered with them (found out they are called Love Bugs because all they do is mate then die). We usually get a bad rain squall that helps get them off the windshield, but this time we didn't get one this trip. It has done nothing but rain since however.
Abita Springs was once a Choctaw Indian village and artifacts over 2,000 yrs old have been discovered within the city limits. It became widely recognized for its attractive historic district; however age and the economy has taken its toll. In 1887 a tourism boom began when a doctor determined the local springs had medicinal qualities, a cooler climate than New Orleans and had a railroad hub. It is home to the Abita Brewery (established in 1986) that includes the popular Turbodog and Purple Haze brews. We haven't tasted them yet, but am sure we will. p.s.- Emeril Lagasse, America's favorite chef, is a fan of Abita beer and keeps a supply in his fridge at all times. We later tasted several of their beers and were very good.
We finally got a fairly nice day so drove to the 2800 acre Fontainebleau State Park located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was absolutely beautiful and has a great campground that is very reasonable ($18 for full hookup, 50 amps). The lake is a 630 sq mi salt water lake (not a true lake, however, as it is connected to the Gulf via Lake Borgne) and only 12-14 ft deep and is totally awesome. The are still ruins of an old sugar mill where they processed the sugar can right on the plantation.
We then drove further down the lake to Mandeville. The old section of the town has been battered once too many times and is pretty shabby. The large old homes located on the seawall have been either totally destroyed or are being renovated. There are very few of the original houses left and, of course, are on stilts. The new part of town is further away from the lake and is spread out.