Category Archives: travel

Mammoth Cave: Watch out for that dinosaur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and a Tyrannosaurus Rex the color of Cheetos is threatening to pluck our Honda CRV right off the highway and throw it over the fence that surrounds Dinosaur World. This is how we know we’ve reached Cave City, a town half way between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. We speed past the plastic brontosaurus and teradafcyls and safely make our way to Mammoth Cave which, we are informed, does not actually house live mammoths. We buy tickets anyway and descend into the dark, cool cave.

 

 

My brother moved to Louisville a few years ago after a post-Katrina stint at the Grand Canyon. He and his partner work at the best restaurant in Louisville; Chris is the kitchen manager, Ruben is the dining room manager. We started a tradition of Thanksgiving at their house (hello, professional chef) and now we make the drive up there every year. This year, after a deliciously languorous six course meal, hours spent watching The Goldbergs and RuPaul’s Drag Race and eight bottles of wine split between four people (don’t judge…okay judge), we opted for a little post-Turkey Day outdoor activity and made the hour and a half drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system with over 400 miles explored and counting. In its colorful history it was a salt mine, a tourist attraction with slave-guided tours, a short lived tuberculosis hospital and in the 1920s the locals incited a cave war for tourist dollars. Mammoth Cave was deemed a national park in 1941 and today there are a slew of tours ranging from a casual stroll to serious spelunking.

Since our underground escapades were spur of the moment, we were only able to book the self-guided tour, which took about 30 minutes. Interpretative rangers were stationed throughout the cave to answer questions and make sure visitors didn’t stray off the paved pathway. Aboveground, there are several miles of nature trails and a visitor center with an interactive cave museum that touches on both the natural and human history of Mammoth Cave. I wish we could have seen Frozen Niagra or the Ruins of Karnak but all of the tours were sold out.

Cave City itself is a curious place. There are lots of roadside attractions including kayaking, putt putt and other caves, however most of the amusement parks were shuttered when we went. Some looked closed for the season, others looked abandoned. Guntown Mountain is supposedly slated for a comeback, so hopefully it will be open next year; I’m particularly interested in the Haunted Hotel. Regardless, I’m looking forward to exploring this area more next Thanksgiving, with or without a hard hat.

I’m In Ireland: Part Four

Ring of Kerry

 

I’m in Ireland for a few more days, but my program officially ended today. One of the classes I took this summer was scriptwriting. One of my assignments was to write a monologue, so I opted to write about my experience of being on this trip. My monologue “Have You Ever?” was performed at our last night of plays and film screenings.  Several people thought I wrote the piece about their experiences (one of the program participants thought I scrolled through her Facebook posts for material!), so I’m happy that my work resonated with my peers. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Have you ever thought about what it means to be from a place? Is it even important to you? For the last three weeks I’ve been in Ireland, a place I’ve never been before. There are enough similarities to home to make me feel comfortable, yet there are enough differences to make me feel out of my element.

Whenever an Irish person asks me where I’m from, I have to replace my default response of “New Orleans” with “The United States,” “The U.S.,” or “America.” It feels clunky on my tongue, so I blurt out “New Orleans” afterwards, which is more for my benefit than theirs.

It’s my first time out of the country, save for a trip to Mexico, and I hardly think a bargain cruise even counts as international travel. I think about what would happen if I lost my passport. My U.S. citizen status is tied up in that one document. If a Leprechaun decides to pocket it, how would if prove who I am? And what if my wallet is stolen, with my Louisiana driver’s license, my bank cards, student I.D., then what? Will I be stuck in Ireland, unable to go home? Will I get fed to the witch of Blarney? Will she make black pudding out of me?

I define myself as part of the “born and raised” set from New Orleans. We’re a proud bunch, sometimes unfairly so, as if the involuntary act of being born in the 504 area code makes us superior to others that weren’t. So introducing myself as anything besides a New Orleanian is weird. I’m proud of where I’m from, but maybe that pride is unwarranted.

Or is it?
In Ireland, I’d like to think I blend in with the locals. I observe what they’re wearing, their posture, how they interact with each other in the bar, at the grocery store. I guess I’m trying to assimilate, but I always manage to screw it up. I open my mouth and America falls out. Or, I make eye contact and they see stars and stripes in my eyes. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe nobody cares where I’m from. Maybe I care too much.

I notice it’s about to rain one afternoon, just when I’m about to walk into city center. I turn around and catch the resident assistant. She holds the elevator so I can get on. “Looks like I’ll need my rain jacket,” I say. “Yes, it seems like it’s about to break cloud,” she responds. Break cloud? How lovely! I say to myself. In America, I might be inclined to spew out something along the lines of “Wow, it’s about to dump out there.” How vulgar of me. How American of me.

Can a person embody where they’re from?
Do I smell like swamp water? Is my skin like an armadillo’s shell? Or is it soft, like a dragonfly landing on a banana tree leaf? Maybe I just smell like Bourbon Street— soured beer with zero trace of dignity.

The problem is I used to think I had a decent grasp on who I am, and how others might perceive me. But now I’m not so sure if I can put my thumb on that in this space.

And the locals are so damn friendly. They’re not going to insult me, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big, dumb American. And maybe they’re not thinking that, but I’m thinking that they’re thinking that.

So I’m at this old man bar, the type of place where no one is under the age of 60 and it’s all dark wood, horse races on the tele, and it’s quiet enough for the patrons to read their newspapers with a pint. I’m in love. I sit with a local beer, I write, and I observe. Then a gaggle of women come barreling in, disrupting my peace with accents not unlike mine. “Please stop being so damn American,” I think to myself as they snap photos of each other and ask where the bathroom is. “Where are you from?” asks the bartender. He’s rakishly cute and the ladies coo at his accent as if they’re buttering a piece of toast with it. “We’re from Canada!” they exclaim, yelling loud enough for me to hear them from across the empty bar. Hold up. What? They’re from Canada? I could have sworn they were American.

You know what, forget it. Maybe I should just stop. Maybe I should just try to stop trying to pinpoint when I think the locals are judging me because of where I’m from. Maybe I should stop judging others because of where they’re from. Maybe I should just grab another pint.

 

photo: Ring of Kerry

I’m in Ireland: Part Three

Blarney CastleMusselsDublin, IrelandIreland is so greenRing of Kerry

I have nine days left before I fly back from Ireland to the United States. Nine! A nine day vacation is plenty, so being here for a month has been downright luxurious. Here are some more highlights:

  • I walk for miles every day. I have a 15 minute walk to class, and most everything I want to do is a 20-30 minute walk from my apartment. I’m going to Arizona in less than a month to hike, so this somewhat prepares me for that. Somewhat.
  • Chips (french fries) are served with everything. They’re thick cut, served scalding hot, and delicious, especially with a side of malt vinegar. Every restaurant serves chips, from the traditional fish & chip shops, the late night kebab spot, and the Chinese restaurant next to campus housing.
  • Dublin was okay. I’m not a big city person, but I’m glad I went. My favorite part of Dublin was when I broke away from my group and explored it on my own. I was content with sitting in a coffee shop and rereading Dubliners, which I picked up at a street market for €3. And the best meal I’ve had so far in Ireland was in Dublin at Kathmandu, so that counts for something.
  • There are lots of tour buses in Ireland, which makes it easy to access many parts of the country without a car. They’re relatively inexpensive (€39 for an all day tour) and my drivers have all been entertaining. I booked a tour of the Ring of Kerry with Paddywagon Tours, and I’m planning another one to see the Cliffs of Moher. Yes, it’s touristy and yes, I wish I had more time at each place we stopped, but for the price and convenience I was okay with this.
  • Coffee is different here. It’s not as strong and it has too much milk for my taste. I learned to just order regular black coffee.
  • No mosquitos! No cockroaches! I’ve been blissfully aware of the lack of bugs here. I’m in for a rude awakening when I’m back in New Orleans.
  • The locals are friendly. I feel safe walking the streets but I still make a point to be aware of my surroundings.
  • Pizza is everywhere here.
  • It hasn’t rained nearly as much as I thought it would.

photos: Blarney Castle. My favorite part was the gardens. |Mussels at Kitty O’ Ses in Kinsale. One of the best I’ve had in Ireland. |Street scene in Dublin.| Ireland is unbelievably green, and the colors deepen to an even more unbelievable green after it rains. | Waterville, a little village on the Ring of Kerry. 

I’m in Ireland: Part Two

Cork, Ireland wild flowersUNO Writing AbroadCharles Fort Kinsdale, Ireland

My first week of classes in Ireland is over. Everything is happening at a lightening fast pace. It’s intense, in the best way possible. I enrolled in two classes (scriptwriting and creative non-fiction workshop) and we’re packing an entire semester’s worth of material into four weeks.  I’m making new connections that will hopefully extend past my time here, and I interact with the locals as much as I can. (I’m looking at you, Monday night karaoke at Old Oak.)

While in Ireland I’ve noticed several differences from our culture in the United States. Some are subtle, some are noteworthy, and the longer I’m here the more I become attuned to. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up on so far.

  • Euros are somewhat cumbersome. There is paper money, but denominations of €2 and less are coins. I feel silly counting out a meal in coins, but it’s the norm here. Ireland is about to get rid of their one cent piece (1/100 of a euro), which, according to a wine shop owner I conversed with, really won’t affect the locals, except for charity boxes. There are boxes everywhere for people to drop change in, including bars, restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. He thought the elimination of the one cent piece might put charities at a disadvantage.
  • In general, everything is a little bit cheaper here. Some things are remarkably cheaper, whereas other items (like grapes) I find more expensive. Even the most touristy of places charge much less than what I’m accustomed to paying in the US.
  • Don’t bother buying an electrical adapter in the U.S. if you can help it. Electrical adapters are readily available for under €4 and work just as well as ones that cost $20 in the states.
  • My American Southern roots are showing. People are friendly but don’t make eye contact with each other on the street. I’m used to telling everyone hello, opening doors for people, and waving at strangers when passing by their house on my bike.  I asked someone on the street for directions and she seemed startled that I approached her.
  • It’s refreshing to see not everyone is glued to their phones here. Except for a solo diner, I haven’t noticed people sitting around at bars and restaurants on their phones. I’m digging it.
  • I love the nuance of language. Irish phrases are just more pleasant than some of the vernacular we use back home. I was chatting with a warden (resident assistant) at campus housing about the weather. “Yes, it looks like it’s about to break cloud,” she said. My American inclination was to say something far less eloquent, such as, “looks like it’s about to dump out there,” or, “It’s getting nasty out there.”

 

photos: wildflowers grow in the cracks on the stone wall that runs down the street I take to campus, group shot in front of Blarney Castle, Charles Fort in Kinsdale, Ireland

 

 

Summer starts right now

IMG_3797IMG_6483new orleans city park sculpture gardensummer starts nowyou go girlswoon breastfeeding

 

My summer starts right. about. now. Last Friday I slid my final exam onto the teacher’s desk, handed over my keys to the Driftwood newsroom (read my last column for the paper here), and finished my last spring semester as an undergraduate. Taking 16 hours and running a college newspaper wasn’t easy, and I’m strangely looking forward to the fall semester (my last one!) when I can just focus on classes. So instead of having a mic drop moment when I turned that last test in, I just enjoyed the relief that the semester is over. I am milking my newfound free time before summer school starts. In between catching up on mundane tasks like housecleaning and laundry, I’m making a point to take daily bike rides with no particular destination in mind. I’m also trying to catch up with much neglected friends, attempting to learn Spanish, and this weekend I’m heading to Mississippi for a break from the city.

I’ve taken summer classes every semester since I went back to college two years ago. I usually opt to enroll in online classes, but this June I’m going to Ireland with UNO’s Writing Workshops Program. I’ve never been to Ireland nor have I ever studied abroad, so the opportunity to get out of the sticky Louisiana heat for a little while to solely focus on my creative writing excites me. I’m not going to lie, having my own bed for a month will be downright luxurious as well. No cats piled up on my pillow! No fighting for the sheets with my husband (I will miss that a little)! No waking up to dogs barking in the morning to go outside! I have a feeling the things that annoy me the most are going to be the things I miss the most when I’m gone. But who knows, maybe I’ll try to sneak a kitty into my suitcase.

 

 

all photos by me:

hotel pool in Asheville, North Carolina | sculptures in New Orleans’ City Park Sculpture Garden | magnolia blossom, French Quarter | You Go Girl and Swoon, New Orleans City Park

 

 

 

 

Sweating Season

Front Yard Foliage

     Let’s face it, New Orleans can be downright miserable in the summer. The humidity slaps you in the face like a steaming wool blanket the second you walk out the door. It’s all bad hair days and sweaty clothes from now until October. The city goes into a reverse hibernation, with many people taking the opportunity to travel. For whatever reason, I’m usually the dummy that doesn’t get out of town during the hottest part of the year. This year, that’s got to change.

     August marks our ten year wedding anniversary (when in the hell did that happen?!)  and while we were planning on renewing our vows where we got married, the timing was off (thanks, fall school schedule) so we opted not to say “I Do” again, at least not this year.  Instead, we’re packing up the car for a week long road trip: NOLA>Atlanta>Asheville>Louisville>Pigeon Forge. I’m looking forward to making road trip playlists, visits with friends and family along the way, truck stop dinners and dusting off our trusty two man tent. Goodbye humidity, hello clean mountain air. 

So, what’s your summer travel itinerary looking like?

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Worth The Drive: Abita Mystery House


Unexpected free time this summer has afforded me the luxury of taking random day trips from New Orleans. My first stop? A trip across Lake Pontchartrain to Abita Mystery House. Tucked away in the charming town of Abita Springs, this quirky museum houses owner John Preble’s impressive collection of tchotckes, vintage arcade games, painstakingly detailed dioramas and taxidermy that looks straight out of Rob Zombies’ House of a Thousand Corpses. I mean that in the best way possible.

 I was downright giddy when I first drove up to the museum. My friend Rebecca described it as a “Pee Wee’s Southern Folksy Playhouse” and I couldn’t agree with her more. The collection is split up among a vintage gas station, a 100 year old Creole cottage and the House of Shards. Each building contains an amalgam of the ordinary, the odd and the downright delightful. Make sure to allow yourself a few hours to explore. While the Abita Mystery House is small, it’s chocked full of wonders. Photos are highly encouraged, so bring your camera and a roll of quarters if you want to fiddle around with the arcade games. 

The Abita Mystery House is definitely worth the hour drive from New Orleans and the three dollar admission fee. 



Abita Mystery House     
22275 Hwy 36 
Abita Springs
 Louisiana 70420 
985-892-2624


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Guest Post: Slow Travel

I’ve never traveled by train before, so when Amy Powe offered to write this post about her experience travelling from New Orleans to Chicago, I was excited to live vicariously through her.- Christy

Text by Amy Powe


As the population of those who embrace slow food,  slow design (local and sustainable!), and slow money (yes it’s a thing), continues to grow it’s hard not to be curious about what’s next.  In The South we have a reputation of never been in too big of a hurry about anything but, are we ready for slow travel?

Recently, I traveled with my family of four to Chicago aboard the infamous City of New Orleans.  The train station is much closer to us than the airport.  Parking, easy, surface lot, five dollars a day. The scene at the train station is interesting. There is an eclectic and eccentric crowd of all ages, shapes and sizes in all manner of dress.  Honestly when is not the case in New Orleans?


As there are no security checks other than a sign that reads “We’re All In This Together” with interior shot of the train, there is no need to arrive any earlier than 45 minutes prior to departure.  We have an easy departure time of 1:45 in the afternoon. First class (aka sleeper car ticket holders) board first. You are allowed two bags and can bring on liquids and food.  My daughter and I share a deluxe sleeper car complete with (albeit small) sink, toilet and shower.  We made our travel plans last minute, so there was not a sleeper car available for my husband and son, so they bunk in a sleeper car roomette.  The roomette does not have nearly the amount of room as the deluxe model, or a private bath.

Inside our sleeper cars, we are greeted by our train hostess Kenya.  She provides us with bottled water and 4 pillows.  She explains that once the conductor makes his announcement we are free to move about the cabin.   She also takes our dinner reservation, asks what time we would like beds turned down and what time we would like a wake-up call.
The sight seeing car has lots of seating and tables to keep travelers busy on their journey.   There is much card playing, reading, crossword puzzle and suduko action.  I never did get a clear answer as to whether or not wi-fi is available but, there didn’t seem to be much of a demand from my fellow passengers.  There is a bar and snack bar downstairs.  I would skip the snack bar next time and pack sandwiches from La Boulangerie before leaving town.  The hot items are “cooked” via microwave and that is scary for me because I don’t own one and it definitely isn’t in the theme of slow!  However, the Coronas were exactly right and there was a fair variety of beers and wine.  Fast forward to dinner.  The dinner menu was pretty bleak however, the local special was barbeque ribs.  Actual non-microwaved food.  My husband and kids loved it.  I assembled a salad and vegetables from the menu.  The retro of it all made for a very charming  atmosphere.  Once back in the room, the beds were made and it reminded of bit of a micro version of my Cabra dorm room at Loyola.  The curtains were drawn back as the sun slowly disappeared from the sky.  It was a lovely thing to have nothing to do than watch the sunset.





Sleeping on the train is very doable, but if you are a light sleeper you may want to medicate or take ear plugs.  The train does continue to make stops during the night and the horn continues to blow as it approaches crossings.  But, if you’re like my daughter you will sleep through the night and then some.

A basic breakfast is served morning before our 9 am arrival in Chicago.  We arrive a few minutes ahead of schedule and make our way off the train and onto the platform. Chicago’s train station is much more advanced than the New Orleans train station.  A cart picks us up, and wisks the four of us and luggage with urgency through the crowd at the station.  The driver makes a stop at the rental car office (a brief pause for paperwork) and promptly drops us off to our rental car.  Back to the fast lane.  



photo credits: travelingmamas.com tarprail.org flickr.com condrenrails.com amtrack40th.com travelingmamas.com

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