New Orleans

20 Nov

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Driving into New Orleans was like having flashbacks from 2007. Over the river and through the swamp, to grandmothers house we go. In 2007 I organized a Katrina relief trip from Brown University. About 15 of us got in a couple cars and drove from Providence, RI to New Orleans. It was an epic 24-hour drive, which we completed in two days. It was a crazy idea, but it was probably one of the best and most rewarding trips. It’s amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time. This time around, I was here to enjoy New Orleans, a city I already had a great deal of love and respect for. We arrived to family friend, Pete McGraw’s place, mid-day. “Pretty girls are always welcome here.” He hugged us both, a true southern gentleman. I knew I liked Pete right away. bclintonHe had a WWII style Quonset hut, “The Hut”, on Tchoupitoulas Street. The hut was a woodshop and warehouse on one side and a small apartment on the other, complete with shower, refrigerator and stove, not that we would be cooking with all the great food to be had. It was full of Dixie Beer signs and memorabilia, old parade float heads and al kinds of awesome antiques. Every year Pete and a bunch of friends participate in a parade where the floats are all either political satires or oversized genitalia. One of the leftovers in the hub was Pinocchio-nosed Bill Clinton with a few extra panties.

IMG_7311Our first stop with Pete was Domilise’s Po-Boy and Bar. We scrunched inside the door at the end of a line around the counter. There was hardly a menu to be found. This is one of those places where you have to walk in knowing what you’re getting. Nathaniel and I exchanged halves of shrimp and oyster Po-Boys, fully dressed. It was the perfect introduction to New Orleans. They were crispy, juicy, and very flavourful. This is an institution I was very happy to take part in.

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For the next two hours or so Pete drove us around and gave us an insiders tour to New Orleans. We drove through the Garden District, the French Quarter, Frenchman St in the Marigny, and Uptown. It was a perfect re-acquaintance with the city I knew. At the end of the tour we stopped at a corner bar for a beer and the LSU football game.

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After a quick recovery at the hut, we headed out to a stop we’ve been eyeing since it was recommended to us months ago. In early August we were in Rhode Island for one reason or another and stopped at Cooke and Brown Publik House for dinner. The bartender, Jennifer, chatted with us about our trip and before we left, handed us a long list of bars and eateries to visit on our trip. Cure was at the top of the list. We were given specific instructions to go to Cure and ask for Nick. We sat at the bar and it just so happened that Nick was our bartender. We sipped on a few perfect cocktails and nibbled on a short rib “debris” sandwich and a Frito pie. On top of mixing some tasty libations, Nick also handed us his short list of where-to-go’s for New Orleans.  Armed with specific instructions, we headed out for Frenchman St.

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Frenchman St is chock-full of great music and art. Early in the night we walked through an artists market with jewelry, photography, fabrics and fascinators. Later we swayed to some serious jazz at The Spotted Cat. We took an obligatory stroll down Bourbon St and even ordered a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. It was disgusting! I didn’t ask the recipe, but I’m pretty sure it was, in order: sugar, red #5, headache vodka and artificial flavoring. Unfortunately for us, we only discovered the dueling piano bar on our way out. Go there for the dueling pianos, not the hurricanes.

IMG_7332In the morning we needed some cardio to sweat out the red #5. Luckily for us the hut is a mere few blocks from Audubon Park. We did a quick loop sporting our Red Sox and Boston Bikes T shirts. Along the way we had a comment from a passerby, “F**k you Yankee.” He said rather loudly. We picked up the pace. Another overhead conversation was one 30-something man to another, “they brought her to therapy to cure her lesbianism.” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The culture has changed. It was clear that we’re on the outside a bit here.

ruedelacourseMy mission for the day was finding the church I slept in two years in a row on my Katrina relief trips from Brown. After driving around the garden district for a while, convinced of the neighborhood, with no success. I finally called my former co-planner, Josh. With some research on his end, we finally made it to Carrollton United Methodist Church on South Carrollton St. IMG_3477It looked just the same. We parked the car and walked to Rue del la Course on Oak St, where we used to come for wifi and caffeine. The yerba mate latte was just as wonderful as I remembered. We noticed that Oak St was blocked off, so we asked a passerby what was going on. It turns out the annual Po-Boy festival was 30 min away. Perfect! IMG_7378We stuck around and walked the streets to scope out the offerings. We ended up with a crawfish sausage po’boy, but the offerings were endless. Stands were offering everything from Vietnamese pork po’boy to “The Godfather” Italian meatball po’boy to fried lobster po’boy. By the time we were full and leaving, only about an hour into the festival, there was a 5 block approximately 300-person line for the fried lobster po’boy. We were tempted by the crowd mentality, but the best lobster in the world comes straight out of my mothers pot in Boston, ma. No need to mess with that.

IMG_3481Next we headed to St James Cheese Company for a peak at the cheese offerings in NOLA. After a nice chat with a very knowledgeable cheesemonger, we shared a local beer and cheese plate. Pete and his sweet twin boys came to join us for a moment and chat before they headed off to see the new James Bond movie.

As soon as dinner hour hit, we were off in the car again past the Marigny and Bywater to the last street corner by the Mississippi River. There we found an A-frame sign reading: Bacchanal Wine. Bacchanal is worth a pilgrimage to New Orleans in and of itself.

bacchanalIt’s unbecoming from the outside. Poorly applied plaster is falling off the wall in odd spots exposing brick underneath and there are bars on the windows above a few stained white plastic chairs. It appears to be a seedy liquor and wine shop. Luckily we had been informed otherwise. IMG_7404We heard a faint whisper of jazz in the background and knew we were in the right place. Inside is a wine and liquor store, only when you buy the reasonably priced bottles, they open them for you on the spot. Then you head out a second door to a modest wooden patio with a petite bar serving cocktails in plastic cups. A little further into the trees and you find a whole back yard full of patio tables and chairs scattered amongst trees and around a stage where a band is setting the mood. We parked our bottle at a table and headed up to the kitchen window to order from the daily gourmet menu. Bacchanal’s kitchen regularly offers fine dishes like confit chicken leg with shaved carrots, frisee and pickled radish. IMG_3502We went with the beer steamed mussels with garlic, fennel, chorizo, cream and herbs, the house made pork rillette, and brussel sprout salad with red onions, apple, walnuts and sherry vinaigrette. Back at our rickety metal patio chairs, we relaxed in a cloud of jazz and satisfaction. A song or so later our food arrived, and it awesome. Simple delicious flavours piled on a plate in no practical order. The unapologetic casual atmosphere was such a welcome departure from anything I’ve experienced at home in Boston. If only we had the weather for that sort of thing.

IMG_7423The next day we decided to get away from downtown in another direction. We crossed the Mississippi River into Grenta, where we found Vietnamese restaurant Tan Dinh. Nick from Cure had passed this spot along to us. He told us the half order of quail is a must. Tan Dinh is unassuming from the outside, wedged in a strip mall row with a neon “Open” sign in the window. Through the glass doors stood a rickshaw holding a pile of menus.  IMG_7431We ordered the two strangest bubble tea flavors I’ve ever seen: soursop and durian. I’ve never seen or smelled a durian before; they are famous for their armor-like exterior and stomach churning smell. The covered cup masked the smell and the taste was perfectly sweet-tart, but as the waitress warned us, the smell came back to haunt our breath later on. Soursop was good was well, but couldn’t outshine the fabled durian. Three seasoned and roasted lady quail came out in the half order with their wings and legs flailing in scandalous directions. We devoured all three leaving not a trace but white bones on the plate, just like mamma taught me.

We drove into Algiers Point, a spot across the Mississippi from downtown. It’s a sweet area of a few streets, some cozy looking restaurants and a coffee shop, where we decided to park for a while. We were greeted and welcomed by Sally, a small 5-month-old Feist puppy. Sally was without a leash and waiting expectantly for her owner, Gene, at the café doors. Once Gene came outside, Sally was all play, exploring the area and periodically coming back to us for pets and a quick check-in with dad. Gene was a friendly and knowledgeable gentleman; we chatted for a few hours about Sally, New Orleans, cooking, fishing, and sailing. By the end, we were so enchanted with him and Sally and their story that we nearly called the man in Mississippi, where Sally came from. After sitting on it for a few minutes, we realized a dog, no matter how small and sweet, would not be happy spending the first month with new owners in a car. We took the $3 ferry back across the Mississippi to downtown as the sun was going down.

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IMG_7457We went to Butcher for a drink and left with some California recommendations and their boudin sausage recipe. It was a great establishment, with very friendly staff. Next we walked around the Warehouse arts area and found ourselves outside of Root, another of Jennifer and Nick’s recommendations. To quote the tip sheet Jennifer wrote for us, we are to visit Root for “foie gras and everything.” We sat ourselves at the vein granite bar and ordered “foie gras and everything.” menageafoieThe menage a foie consisted of foie-strami coated in pastrami spices with a rye crisp, foie-li pop rolled in pop rocks and wrapped in cotton candy, and dipp-in-foie with coconut water. They were crazy, and each one was wonderful in its own respect. The hot wings also can’t go without mentioning. kfcwingsThey were hot and irresistible. It was one of those moments when even though your mouth and face are burning you cant seem to stop yourself from reaching for the next wing. Even the house-made kimchi had flecks of chili and was no relief. Root had delicious, artistic and polished food. It was an amazing experience.

Our last morning in New Orleans was bittersweet. We took our morning jog around Audubon Park before packing up andIMG_7503 heading out to South Carrolton Street for our last stop, Boucherie. At 11am we were the first people in the door for lunch. We were the only people in the place for a while, so after we ordered we chatted with the wait staff, Hope and Matt. The duck confit po’boy had whole roasted garlic cloves and Creole seasoned tomatoes. It wasn’t delicate, but it was good. On the other hand, the pan seared turnips with olive butter, oranges and shaved brussel sprouts was quite elegant. The dish we will probably remember most vividly, however, will likely be the Krispy Kreme bread pudding. krispykremebreadpuddingHot, soft, sweet and gooey, that little square of dessert was everything we hoped it would be. We left New Orleans on that sweet note, and with the city of indulgence in our rearview mirror, we rolled towards the great state of Texas. I may never get my figure back.

Mobile

17 Nov

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After 6 or 7 hours of driving the panhandle of Florida, we decided to stop in Mobile, Alabama and leave the last couple hours of driving to New Orleans for tomorrow. We headed into what we’ve been told is a small but historic town, and found ourselves on Dauphine St. It seemed like a nice enough walking street so we decided to stop for a drink and some food before finding a camp ground for the night.

We parked, walked around the corner and ran straight into a big red English double decker bus that read: The OK Bicycle Shop. This was no ordinary bicycle shop. All of the bicycle related merchandise was dangling from the ceiling with price tags attached. In fact the main purpose of this establishment was to serve local beer on tap and tacos. We sat for a Kudzu Porter from the Back Forty Beer Co. and a half price happy hour margarita. By the time we left, the red bus was gone. Must’ve been rented out for a party.

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Next we went on a small culinary tour. I can’t remember exactly where I heard of these two places, but we were very happy with our picks for dinner. Our first stop was just down the street at Wintzell’s Oyster House. I was determined to try the West Indies Salad, a Mobile specialty made with lump crab, chopped onions and spices marinated in vinegar for 24 hours. A restaurateur Bill Bayley created the recipe in 1947 to try and make use of the mass amounts of crabmeat available in a new way, mainly not fried or with mayonnaise. It has been a roaring success ever since, and I can see why. It was much lighter and fresher than most southern recipes. Just to complete our journey to Wintzell’s, we ordered ½ a dozen char-grilled oysters. I prefer raw to cooked oysters any day. But if I ever do cook oysters it may just be like these, with peppery butter, Parmesan and Romano cheeses.IMG_7281

Our final stop for the main course was at The Brick Pit, a shack joint down the road from The University of Alabama. We walked in from the tiny parking lot out front. There was a sign at the front door: “This aint no dream this is the real thing!!” We had arrived! IMG_7283We split a big pulled pork sandwich (there was no small or medium) and a dinner plate of ribs with bean and slaw sides. The place was run by college kids, probably from up the road. Everyone knew we were from out of town and struck up conversation while we were waiting. “Where ya’ll from?” “How did you hear about this place?” “Well, you sure are lucky you found it. This is the best meat in all’a Alabama.” I have no doubt about that. It was fantastic! We were told by more than a few sources that we were not to miss Mrs. Wait’s homemade banana puddin’. Despite our bursting tummies, we ordered one for the road. Once we got to camp and set up, we were way too full to even look at banana pudding, so we saved it for breakfast. Great decision! A cold chunky banana cream puddin’ was perfect for breakfast. I want that recipe. Anyone have a southern grandmother with a banana pudding recipe? After our sweet breakfast we were New Orleans bound.

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St. Augustine Part II

16 Nov

cnarcuteriestausustineOn our way back up Florida, we couldn’t help but stop again at Ryan and Jamie’s for the night. We called ahead to let them know that we were coming and they arranged for pop pop and teta to babysit Paxton so that we could take them for a night out. When we arrived, Paxton was excited to see us again. Well I guess I should say he was excited to see Nathaniel again. We got settled in a bit and then off we were to drop Paxton off at his grandparents on Anastasia Island on the other side of the intercostals.  IMG_7267We settled on tapas at The Tasting Room for dinner. It is a beautiful restaurant: deep red high back booths, dark wood, and great live music. During this trip I’ve really come to believe that live music is very underappreciated in Boston. So many cities we visited really embraced it in a way I’ve never experienced in Boston. This guitarist/singer and fiddle player duo were wonderful, but when we asked them for a CD or reference website or something, all they could tell us was their names and to find them on facebook. It wasn’t just the music that was great; the food was awesome! We each picked a plate and then ordered the Tabla de Enbutidos Españoles to round out the meal. That plate of meat and the trio of sausages, Basque Chorizo, Catalan White Butifarra, Murcia Black Sausage, were phenomenal. After all that we were satiated to say the least, but Nathaniel and I still had a hankering for a Hyppo Gourmet Popsicle. Nathaniel had the Elvis, peanut butter banana, and I went for the pineapple cilantro. Amazing! Just as we expected.

Next we headed to Stogies Jazz Club for some smoky atmosphere. Wouldn’t you know it; the fiddle player from The Tasting Room was playing his own set at stogies! We listened to his whole set before our cigars burnt down and we started feeling sleepy. We headed across the bridge again to grab a sleepy Paxton, and I got to see Chris, Ryan’s brother. It was such a treat to see him again!

That morning after a quick run, Nathaniel watched some cartoons with Paxton. They were both quite content sitting on the couch with each other for the morning. We were sent off with an awesome quiche breakfast and warm hugs.

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Thank you so much to Ryan, Jamie and Paxton! You are such wonderful friends, and I can’t wait to host you all in return.

Plantation

15 Nov

IMG_3418We rudely arrived at the Aisenberg home in the middle of Vicky’s workday. She stood at the top of the stairs to greet us with headset on and big fluffy puppy Basil sniffing through her legs at us. We were so excited to be staying with Vicky and Avi after their beautiful wedding in September. They have lived together in Florida for almost a year now, but we may have been the first Boston-origin friends to come and stay. In truth, the only reason we made it as far down Florida as Ft Lauderdale was to see these two, not to mention the new puppy Basil. Basil is the sweetest thing! He is in that stage where he has no idea how huge he is. He wants to lie on top of you all the time. Once we settled in and Nathaniel sat down to read a book, Basil took this as an invitation to sit with him and eat some pages out of Life of Pi. He’s such a sweet and silly puppy! We went out for a look around Weston, Fl while Vicky finished up her work calls. We stopped at a shop called The Cheese Course, which turned out to be a lovely spot to get some local and imported cheeses. We sat for a small cheese plate and grabbed a little extra to share for dinner.

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While Avi, Vicky, and Basil attended the first intermediate puppy class, Nathaniel and I organized dinner. I put together a quick cheese plate and some sautéed kale, while Nathaniel poached sausage in beer, baked and finished it in a pan. At dinner we gabbed on and on, Vicky and I about the honeymoon and all our girl gab, and the boys about all the distillery and brewery tours and tastings on our trip thus far. We brought out our whiskies, collected along the way, and had a little tasting after dinner.

The next day Nathaniel and I had a much needed run around a pond a mile away, and then had a restful day on the black-hole that is the Aisenberg couch. We blogged, read, watched TV, were sat on by the big puppy, and generally had a lovely time. That evening after a short trip to visit some real estate, we headed to Fort Lauderdale for dinner. Nathaniel did all the research for this one and found a great spot, Market 17.

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Avi won for the best cocktail choice with Avotini: cucumber organic vodka, avocado, pineapple, ginger, agave and fresh lemon and lime. It was a killer green color, so tasty and my feeling is you can mark it on the list as healthy. I mean, avocado, ginger, right?? Some lovely housemade charcuterie came after that. Avi, despite his original feelings on the subject did try the sweetbread pate. The Sunshine Bleu cheese from Florida was also fantastic! Vicky then brought Avi and Nathaniel into the secret of our little bi-monthly mother-daughter dinners: I order for the table. Lucky me! Our shared appetizer was beautiful sweet potato hazelnut gnocchi with preserved lemon and Parmesan. Entrees were all incredible! Venison with fingerlings, greens and quail eggs, perfectly cooked duck breast over barley in jus with seasonal vegetables, and some kind of pan seared fish, which I shamefully can’t remember, and crispy shallots over beet risotto. Yummy Yummy! (That’s a technical term.) The food at Market 17 was great, but the company was even better. It felt so nice to have a relaxing meal with Vicky and Avi again. It reminded me of our days in Charlestown, when they would come over with a bottle of wine and salad and I would create a meal. I miss having them nearby, but I’ll admit, Florida is not a bad place to visit in the wintertime.

IMG_7239The next morning Avi was off to work bright and early, while the two of us dawdled, not really wanting to go. But the time had come and we waved goodbye to Vicky and Basil as they went off for their morning walk and we drove off for one more stop in Fort Lauderdale. Cheese Culture is a cheese shop, wine bar and café on East Las Olas Boulevard. I had read wonderful things about it so we thought we would stop there for a late breakfast/early lunch before driving up to St. Augustine, part II. The cheesemongers were lovely and let me try lots of their favorite locals. We got the first sandwich on the menu, the Tuscan pig: porchetta, Cabot clothbound cheddar (and a particularly good wheel at that), arugula and white truffle oil. It was pretty and it was very tasty!

Thank you sosososo much to Vicky, Avi and Basil for their wonderful hospitality! We miss you up in Boston, but it’s comforting to see you so happy in Florida.

Stuart and Palm Beach

12 Nov

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We drove into Stuart, Florida and walked straight into a dinner party at the Link household, naturally. What a great welcoming! We chatted with all the guests about our trip thus far and plans for our next stops. When the pork tenderloins came off the grill, they smelled heavenly. We sat for a lovely dinner and even better conversation over meat, mashed potatoes, and tastes from whiskey distilleries we’ve collected from. Everyone around the table had a story to share about a journey in the States. It felt so warm to be surrounded by people who were just as excited about our journey as we are. After our leisurely dinner, we cleared the table and hopped directly into bed. We needed our rest in preparation for Sunday football.

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I knew we were in for some Patriots fanfare, but I had no idea we would be in for such an event! We were quickly outfitted Sunday morning with our mandatory Patriots apparel and whisked off to a friend’s home in Stuart Florida for the weekly gathering of the strongest contingent of Patriots fans in Florida, at least I think they must be. IMG_3399We spent the afternoon participating in all kinds of traditions and cheers, one of which included a shot after every touchdown, Yikes! After a couple of touchdowns I switched from shots of tequila to shots of margarita. Another treat was the 12-hour pulled pork and coleslaw prepared for lunch. Pulled pork sandwiches are something of a weakness of mine, and you can always tell when time and effort was put into cooking the meat. These guys aren’t fooling around. At halftime we played a dice game called “Left, Right, Center” What a fantastic game! By the time we were finished we had eaten up halftime plus some, so we could fast forward through a few of the commercials, perfect! This particular weekend was also the US military air show in Stuart, which just so happened to be going on a few miles from where we were watching the game. Every so often someone would run outside to catch a jet or warthog flight overhead.

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With the final score of 37-31 Patriots, it was a nail-biter all the way to the end, not to mention far too much to drink. When we got home, I went into our room for some reason I cannot remember, and ended up napping for a couple hours. Whoops!  When we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed again, it was time for another dinner party and family gathering! It was only minutes before hot pizza wafted in the door and people filled the rooms. Mom Higley naturally brought a beautiful and decadent dessert of poached pears and crème anglaise. After dinner and catching up with the family we joined Mom Higley in the pool for a midnight swim before bed.

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The next morning we were off to West Palm to Grammy’s. We spent the afternoon walking the beach and the boardwalk. It was a beautiful clear day. Nathaniel suggested The Breakers for lunch. After a walk through the gorgeous lobby, we found ourselves at the Seafood Bar overlooking the ocean and the breaker wall. A tasty bloody mary with a cocktail shrimp garnish started our meal out right. Grammy had a tasty chowder in a bread bowl, one of my favorites ways to have soup. Nathaniel’s and my blackened shrimp tacos were great with pickled red cabbage slaw, mango salsa and cotija cheese.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening cuddled up with Grammy playing her favorite game, rummy cube. Despite our best efforts, she seems to come out on top most of the time. This time however, it was Mom Higley’s stroke of luck and genius that pulled her to a wide margin victory. We whipped up a quick dinner of butternut squash soup with roasted pepitas, some beets and a Florida local burrata. The next morning we woke up bright and early to say goodbye to Mom Higley. She’s always so generous with her time and love, it flew by too quickly as it always does.  We had a leisurely morning with Grammy. I showed her my trick for peeling a pomegranate underwater and we had cups of the tasty gems to add to our yogurt and cereal. We sat for a while and heard old family stories from Grammy about all of her 8 or 9 brothers and sisters. It’s amazing what happens when you get older relatives talking about their lives. They change before your eyes into these youngsters, running, playing, making decisions and making mistakes. It’s like the first time you realize you’re parents are real people and they can get hurt and make mistakes. All of the sudden you can relate to each other on a much closer level. It’s a deeper and greater understanding of the path we take to get where we are going. Especially on a trip like this, it is so valuable to relate to family that has been through similar scary and wonderful adventures. This chapter of our trip was all about family and we are so grateful to Mom Higley, Grammy, Barbara, Chris, Marty, Ma Link and all of our new friends for all of their hospitality, stories and love.

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St Augustine Part I

11 Nov

On our way to St. Augustine Florida, we stopped at Huguenot Memorial Park for the night. Huguenot is east of Jacksonville across the bay from the naval station. The first thing I did when we arrived was pull out a blanket to lay on the ground in the sunshine. Burrs. They were everywhere. Nathaniel tried to warn me, but as I flopped down onto the blanket they pricked me all over. Shouldn’t there be some kind of warning sign? This is a campsite, people, one is bound to be on the ground at some point! After carefully picking each burr off of my blanket, and myself I decided the beach would be a better choice. We went for a long stroll on the beach, out to the ocean side and back around into the bay side. We had another colourful sunset, with a whole school of dolphins jumping and fishing. Nathaniel also noticed an aircraft carrier with some especially bright lighting on it. It turns out that the one night we stayed over was the night of a Carrier Classic basketball game. Georgetown and Florida State were facing off in an 8,000-seat stadium built on top of a naval aircraft carrier, and we could see the lights coming on as the sun went down. Continue reading

Savannah

9 Nov

Coming from the New South city of Atlanta, we were ready for some of Savannah’s Old South. We arrived in the morning and got ourselves some good southern diner breakfast at Clary’s. Biscuits & gravy, pecan pancakes and sweet tea were a perfect start.

Mamma Marino met us at the Mansion at Forsyth Park. She was nice enough to come down for a few nights to visit and put us up in a hotel room. I have to say I like being away from my mother less and less as I get older. Our fist adventure was a walking Architectural Tour of Savannah, a recommendation from family friends Karen and Paul, who always come up with great traveling advice! Jonathan Stalcup, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), led our small group on a 2-mile chronological tour from colonial row houses to antebellum Greek revival to current sustainable and green building. James Oglethorpe founded the city, and he laid out the grid plan for Savannah including 21 public squares you run into every few blocks. This picturesque organization means the city is very walk-able. We weaved our way around and through the squares learning how Savannah developed as a city. My question is, where was this guy when Boston was laid out? Continue reading