We left Jacksonville promptly at 6:17 a.m. - only 17 minutes later than I wanted - on Friday, December 13th. After a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for those of us who need sugar and caffeine to get started in the morning, we had an easy drive through downtown Jacksonville to the start of I-10. We breezed through and hit up the Waffle House in Tallahassee by 10 a.m. What do vegans eat at Waffle House? Why tea and hash browns that are smothered (sautéed onions), diced (grilled tomatoes), peppered (jalapeño peppers), and capped (button mushrooms), of course! Then back on the road to our first stop in New Orleans, LA.
Neither David, Kara nor I had ever been to NOLA and it seemed a perfect stop for the end of the first day. I had reserved a room at the La Quinta in Slidell which is about 30 minutes north of NO. I was a little hesitant about staying at the LQ, but they have a liberal pet policy (pets stay free) and, as they say, the price is right, so I decided we would try it. I shouldn't have worried! The room, although a little small, was bright, clean, and very nice. I'm not a stickler about having the latest decor (I don't even think I would know if it wasn't), but this seemed nice.
Since it was a long drive (528 miles), we cooked in our room that night. To help keep expenses down, I packed our rice cooker and our small crockpot plus 2 bags of groceries (mostly rice, canned beans, lentils, and diced tomatoes) so that we didn't always have to eat out. I also have an awesome tin of tiny spice containers that my friend, Sandra gave me one year, so we didn't have to eat bland food :) That first night we made black beans and rice in the rice cooker. We also steamed some bagged broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in the room microwave. Who says you can't cook in a hotel room?
|Black beans and rice with steamed vegetables made in our hotel room|
The next day, Saturday, we spent in NO or rather in the French Quarter. We found parking near the French Market and worked our way westward. We didn't really have a plan (big mistake!), but we found some beignet and fresh coffee after wandering around a bit. After walking some more, we saw a river boat tour that really interested me, but it took a while and a lot of walking to decide we wanted to do it for sure. Before the tour, we used our America the Beautiful pass to visit the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.
|French Quarter Market entrance|
|Yummy beignet and coffee|
As the day went on, it started to get kind of dreary and drizzly, so we finally decided that we would get on the river boat and what a dandy river boat it was! The Natchez is the only steam paddle wheel boat in NO. We started our vacation with a drink - mine was too many kinds of rum mmmmmmm....
|Look closely...this guy is playing holiday music on a calliope|
|Rum drinks to warm this rainy Saturday afternoon|
|Believe it or not, David was drinking coffee :)|
|DC with gray hair. Oh what we have to look forward to!|
|Kara's vegan Po' Boy|
|Red-cocaded Woodpecker (female)|
We got into Houston around 4:30 p.m. and made plans with Kara's dad for dinner at Fadi's Mediterranean Grill. I wasn't too pleased about turning around and driving back into the city after we drove all the way through Houston, but I'm really glad we went because, although the way you get your food is kind of crazy here, it was really good. I especially enjoyed the cabbage salad and the red beet salad - both of which were raw and tasty. No problem eating vegan here!
On Monday David and I got up early and headed about 40 miles west to the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR hoping to see the endangered Attwater's Lesser Prairie Chicken of which there are only about 200 left, but with such small numbers and it not being breeding season, the chances were extremely slim. A very helpful ranger gave us a map and some back country directions to try to see them, but even after braving dirt farm-to-market roads, we didn't see them. We did find our first Snow Geese of the year and a beautiful Caracara.
|Looking for Attwater Prairie Chicken west of Houston|
|Our first Snow Goose flock of the year|
|Not sure what this is. Any suggestions?|
|A whole gang of turtles vying for the sun|
|Northern Bobwhites crossing the road.|
|American Bittern trying to hide itself while crossing the road. He walked slow and low to the ground|
From Guijillo's, it was just a short hop back onto I-10 and westward until we dropped. And we dropped in a little place named, Junction, Texas. Uh-huh! As we got closer we stopped to call ahead for a room and there being no La Quintas in sight, we settled on a Days Inn with a $20 pet fee :(
As we opened the door to the room, there was an immediate, overwhelming odor of fresh paint. UGH! I can still smell it now! On first glance, the place was just stark and bare, but then, our eyes adjusting to what was in front of us, we saw the floor lamp on the dresser - no bulb or shade, just the lamp. It was sitting on newspaper and had been painted white with a brush (we could see the brush marks). In fact, ALL the metal in the room had been painted in the same fashion and was still sticky which is why the room smelled so strongly of paint. David immediately went back to the office and asked for a new room. He was told that all the rooms were being remodeled and, oh by the way, the paint might still be wet, so please don't touch or move anything. In hindsight, we should have left right then and there or at least asked for a steep discount on the room, but we were so tired and we had already dragged all our things up to the room, so we just settled in as best we could for a fitful night's sleep. We left Junction, Texas in our dust at 6 a.m. the next day, but not before trying to get some coffee, but even the milk was spoiled in this place! This night was the lowest point of the trip. It could only get better...and it did!