Category Archives: vacation

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

 

 

I’m in Ireland!

Jackie Lennox IrelandVictoria Mills IrelandIrelandGuinness

I just arrived in Ireland and am so. flipping. excited. I will be here for a month (!!!) in Cork with UNO’s Writing Workshop. My first thought upon landing- I can’t get over how green it is here. I mean, way to live up to your reputation, Ireland. I flew from New Orleans to New Jersey, then touched down in Shannon and hopped on a bus to Cork. The bus ride was pleasant, with lush, idyllic landscapes straight out of a fairytale. The weather is perfect, especially coming from humidity laden New Orleans. I regret not bringing more sweaters, but I can live with that #firstworldproblem.

I’ve only been here for one full day and have so much to process. The city center (what I would call downtown) is walking distance from campus. There are enough recognizable names (H&M, Subway ) for the place to feel familiar, but there are also enough differences to encourage exploration. My mission is to only eat and drink food and beverages that I can’t consume at home. So far I’ve been somewhat successful, although I did buy a bottle of Jameson for a little nightcap.

Classes start on Monday, and I’m grateful we have some time to orient ourselves before diving into coursework. The University College Cork campus is stunningly beautiful. UCC, established in 1845, is one of three Queen’s colleges, which opened its doors under the reign of Queen Victoria. Limestone buildings are draped with ivy, and the earliest structure dates back to 1810.

I will be documenting my trip here, but you can also follow me on Instagram for more pictures.

Firsts: fish & chips from Jackie Lennox Chip Shop, first night’s view at Victoria Mills Lodge, first view of Ireland from the plane,  first Guinness in Cork at Edison. All photos taken on my iPhone. 

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, please!

kiddie pool set up

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, you need one in the worst way possible.

The summer months are downright miserable in New Orleans. The only way to remain comfortable is to stay indoors and blast the air conditioner until late October, or get proactive about cooling off and get creative with staving off the heat.

Last summer I made the best decision of my life (only a slight exaggeration) and invested in a kiddie pool. They’re relatively inexpensive, a good excuse to have friends over, and if you’re in need of some solitude all you need is a good book, an ice cold Le Croix, and you’ve got yourself a backyard oasis on a budget. I’m not talking about those glorified puddles of water in the shape of a turtle; you need something that your grown ass self can sit down in, chest deep, or fit a pool float in.

Interested in setting up your own? Since I did my homework last summer you don’t have to. Here’s everything you need for your own adult kiddie pool, ice chest full of beer not included.

 

Not too big, not too small

Buy the largest pool you can. I wanted mine to fit on my covered back patio, so a five feet wide by three feet deep framed pool was the best option for me. I purchased it for $60 from Big Lots, but there are plenty of options out there online as well as in stores.

 

The setup 

You need a flat surface – such as an even patch of grass or a level spot on the patio – otherwise you’ll risk puncturing the bottom. I also recommend purchasing two tarps, one to go underneath the pool (for added protection) and one to cover it. If you can buy a pool cover designed for your model get that instead. Even with a cover bugs and debris will sneak in. A leaf rake or net is a must for keeping your pool clean.

I definitely recommend buying a kiddie pool with a built in filter. You want to keep that water moving, unless your goal is to start a mosquito breeding facility. In that case, keep that water nice and stagnant. My pool didn’t come with a filter, so I purchased a pond aerator via Amazon in lieu of hiring neighborhood kids to blow bubbles via silly straws 12 hours a day.

 

Crystal clear 

It takes a lot of water to fill up a pool. Mine holds about 350 gallons, so instead of putting more money into New Orleans Sewage and Water Board’s pockets, I fill up my pool once and maintain the water quality on a weekly basis. Pool supply manufacturers don’t make products for kiddie pools (if you find some let me know) so I wing it with spa products. I like Fresh n’ Clear from Leslie’s Pool Supplies.

You’ll need to figure out how many gallons of water your pool holds to make sure you are using the proper amount of product. Search for online swimming pool calculators that will figure out your pool’s volume based on the height, width, and depth.

I don’t bother with chlorine tablets but I do put two or three capfuls of bleach in the pool and let it sit for a day or two before my next late night dip. Every other week I scrub down the sides and bottom with a sponge to prevent slime buildup.

Packing it up

Unless you want to maintain that puppy during the winter I’d suggest packing it up and storing it away. I give my pool a good scrubbing with soapy water before I store it or after I unpack it from the previous year. You’ll also want to let it dry completely before stashing it away, unless acrid mildew is your thing.

 

Worth the Drive: Mississippi’s Forest Retreat

forest retreatIMG_6631

forest retreat Mississippi

homochitto national forest

 

I haven’t been to Forest Retreat, a secluded trio of cabins in Mississippi’s Homochitto National Forest, since 2013. Forest Retreat was me and Thomas’ secret spot when the urge get out of the city for a few days would arise. There is no cell phone reception, no internet (the cabins do have wifi now), and the only noise that cuts through the silence is the rustling of leaves and an occasional dog howling in the distance. We used to make the three hour drive at least twice a year with Nadia, our retired racing Greyhound, in tow. The reason I discovered Forest Retreat in the first place was an ad in Urban Dog Magazine that touted dog friendly cabins. We weren’t sure our timid city pooch would take to being out in the country, but I’m pretty sure Nadia had more fun playing in the creek and going on hikes than we did.

Sadly, Nadia passed away two summers ago due to an inoperable tumor on her spinal cord. Her ashes are sealed in a large plastic bag, tucked away in a wooden box on a bookshelf in our living room. I’ve never been able to bring myself to look at her remains, and I didn’t want to go back to Forest Retreat for the same reason that box sits unopened two years later. We only had Nadia for three years, but she was the love of my life, the first dog we owned as a couple, and just like many rescued animals, we had to earn her affection. Most retired racing greyhounds aren’t accustomed to what we think of as a “normal home life” since they grow up around the race track. The dogs can be slightly skittish at best and scared of their own shadow at worst. I worked with Nadia to overcome her fear of the dishwasher, taught her how to climb up and down stairs, and eventually she stopped being petrified of the wind. Skateboards, on the other hand, were the devil incarnate. She would hyperventilate at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm, but fireworks were inexplicably okay.

After Nadia passed we waited a few months before getting another dog. So when we got two – Izzy, another Greyhound, and Beignet, a terrier/Catahoula mix – it just didn’t feel right to rush back to our old vacation spot with our new crew. I equated it with the awkwardness of bringing a new beau to the restaurant you dined at all the time with your ex. How do you explain to your new fling why you know so much about the menu?

So when Thomas recently suggested we plan a weekend getaway to Forest Retreat, I surprised myself and said yes. We ended up going this past weekend and my only regret is that we waited so long to go. The dogs loved it, we enjoyed the break from our day to day lives, and we both had to ask ourselves “What took us so damn long to get back here?” I’d like to think that Nadia is somewhere in that big dog park in the sky, running her skinny little butt off and being as stubborn as ever. I think she would agree that it’s finally time to move on and give some other pooches their turn to run through the forest.

For more pictures from Forest Retreat check out my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com

If you decide to go on your own Forest Retreat weekend, here are a few things to consider:

  • GPS will only get you so far, so make sure you print out the direction given to you upon your reservation. That said, the directions aren’t the clearest (we get turned around every time) and cell phone reception is spotty on country roads. Give yourself ample time to backtrack. Trust me, you don’t want to traverse forest service roads at night.
  • The owner recently added wifi in the cabins but there’s  no cell phone reception, unless you stand on the parking hill, cross your fingers and make a wish. You’ll want to unplug but do keep this in mind in case of an emergency.
  • You’ll need to bring all of your food with you. The nearest store is several miles away and once you start to unwind you won’t want to see an ignition switch until vacation is over. The two cabins are furnished with essentials such as bed linens, towels and kitchen gadgets. You’ll need to bring your own toiletries and if you’re going in the summer bug spray is a godsend. I like to bring a good book, a board game or two, a flashlight, appropriate shoes for wading in the creek, my camera, and my laptop for playing music and watching movies at night.
  • Bring your dog’s bed and a blanket for the sofa if you have a four legged couch potato.

Worth the Drive: Tunica Falls

Tunica Hills Campground

Clark Creek Recreational Area
Tunica Falls
Tunica Falls
Tunica Falls
I desperately need to get out of town as much as I can but unfortunately, my schedule dictates that I’m stuck in the city seven days a week. Since I had fall break this week, we threw the dogs in the car, put some extra food out for the cats, and headed to Tunica Falls (aka Tunica Hills aka Clark Creek Natural Area), a two hour drive from New Orleans. Waterfalls, slight changes in elevation (read: not flat like NOLA) and shaded trails make for a quick yet satisfying weekend getaway. I’m not sure who had more fun, us or the girls.
 
 Four dollars gives you access to Tunica Falls’ 1.78 miles of “improved” trails and 2.6 miles of primitive trails. I’d suggest doing a little of both. Be sure to pack shoes appropriate for wading through creeks. You’ll want to splash around and explore. There are six waterfalls marked on the trail but the 700 acre Clark Creek Natural area boasts 50 waterfalls total, ranging in height from 10 to 30 feet. There are bathrooms at the trailhead and a water fountain. Be sure to stop at the Pond Store, located up the road, to stock up on snacks. 
 
If you’re in need of cheap lodging, Tunica Hills Campground is nearby and provides cabins and primitive tent sites. The campground is small, which ensures you’ll be greeted by fellow campers but it’s more private than than some of the larger RV campgrounds that I’ve been to. We opted to spend the night in the A frame cabin; for $52 a night you get a queen sized bed, air conditioning, a microwave and a coffeepot. There’s also a loft to stow your stuff and enough space for the dogs. Just make sure to bring your own bath towels and toiletries; you’ll be sharing a (relatively clean) port-a-potty and outdoor shower with the other guests. 
 
For more pictures of Tunica Falls and Tunica Hills Campground check out my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com. 
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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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Keep You Posted

I’ve been luxuriating in a less stressful schedule as of late, which has afforded me a better work/life balance. I’ve been off on little adventures, both in town jaunts and trips out of town. Research projects, twice weekly dates with the swimming pool, and long dog walks have been great for helping me refocus. See y’all soon.

old dry cleaners on freret & cadiz. i live for old buildings.

pimento cheese grits and a hearty pancake brunch from high hat cafe
Cute as a button bursts of rhinestone earrings from Armoire
F21 chambray sundress, American Apparel belt, Minnetonka moccasins, and a lavender mani
surrealist art from jason rodriguez. read my piece for propaganda to learn more about his work.
keepin’ it classy with the bathoom selfie. vintage scarf, 21 sleeveless button down, joe’s jean shorts via buffalo exchange, everlane tote bag that i take everywhere.
scoping out the wildlife in gulf shores, alabama
not pictured- two grey fluffy boys
Twitter: slowsouthstyle Facebook: Slow Southern Style