Tuesday, January 25, 2011

West Coast feel, just a whole lot closer

When I want to get a somewhat small touch of Carmel, CA., I just head some 75 miles east.

The real Carmel is some 2,000 miles to the west. It takes planning to get there, and more money and time.

Not so with this little jewel on the east shore of Mobile Bay in Alabama. 

No, its not Carmel, nothing can be, but hey, close your eyes, feel the cool winter air and breath that salty sea air (OK, Mobile Bay may not be salty, but we're just trying to conjure up a feeling here).

Carmel is almost a must visit when we trip out to the West Coast on jaunts that include mainly San Francisco.

The Pacific Coast town just beckons. And when it is not in the cards, well, Fairhope, AL helps to bring a little satisfaction.

Fairhope doesn't have tree lined medians down the main street, but city fathers (or either the Chamber of Commerce), keep flower boxes along the streets full of whatever is pretty for any particular season.

This southern city offers an abundance of shops, restaurants and coffee houses. My wife likes the shops, I like the restaurants and coffee houses.

Panini Pete's courtyard
The scenic drive south from Interstate 10 to Fairhope offers a winding and hilly experience. Houses on both sides of the road probably once reached into the half-million dollar valuation before the recession hit. Those on sloping land that borders on the bay probably are worth that and more.

The landscaping is more verdant than out west because California is basically a desert state … lots of sand and heavy winds blowing off the Pacific. Thereis a lot of moisture here, and plenty of vegetation.

Just like the West Coast experience, one leaves downtown Fairhope heading west with the road going downhill until it ends at the bay where visitors are greeted by a city park and a roundabout on which there are two restaurants, one sitting over the waters of the  bay.

On our recent January trip, wifey decided she wanted to do as we have done in the past, and that is get some sandwich fixings at the local grocery store and picnic in the city park that runs along the shoreline.

During high season, when someone is on duty, the posted entry fee is $8. There was no one collecting money, so we drove on in only to find out that the major section of the park was closed. We managed to find a place to park adjacent to a picnic table.

The temperature was coolish, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing and seagulls were piercing the air with their shrieks.

Upon closing my eyes for a moment, my thoughts traveled westward, it was just like . . .  well, not quite . . .

But enjoyable just the same.

Next post: February 1, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bits and pieces abound in the Big Easy

Our Christmas week excursion to New Orleans involved taking a walk around the Garden District, a ride on the streetcars for the first time and enjoying new eating establishments.

We also got a look at the lunar eclipse although we got up too late to see the event at its main point.

My wife ran around taking pictures of houses while in the Garden District. Myself, I majored on the minor. I tried to find smaller subjects, some that were out of place or others that just held some interest. Or were just downright funny.

I also have also begun looking down more often for pictures, trying to find detail and differences in the places where we walk.

The streets of the Big Easy, like other cities with a lot of trees, also fall victim to the roots of various types of trees, in the South, especially the oaks. The week of Christmas also held some remarkable color, even for this time of year.

People put stuff down here and there, not thinking they are littering, but offering the opportunity for a passing tourist to snap an unusual photo.

We were out a lot at night and ran across at least one "truism" that fits us and our children.

Next post: January 25, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Straying from the food standard -- almost

During our Christmas trip to the Big Easy we managed to avoid restaurants we usually visit.

It was sort of by design that this happened. We just wanted to experience new places.

That is, of course, except Cafe du Monde where we have to have our traditional beignets and cafe au lait at least once, but this time we made a second visit. Wife Linda prefers milk instead of coffee (when tea is not available).

Cafe Pontalba is usually on our list. It is located on Jackson Square. Easy to get to, with big French doors opening (during mild weather) onto the activities of the French Quarter.

On our previous trip we stopped at Central Grocery for a muffaletta. Linda can handle only so much salt in her diet. But the sandwiches are good. And there is usually a wait in line.

We usually work these in when it is just a daytrip. This time we spent two nights and added new places.

Our first luncheon meal upon arrival ended up being in our van outside a coffee shop that didn't offer anything in which we were interested.

We almost always bring along some food just in case we get stuck in a time-food conundrum. We looked in our cooler and made a meal out of some cheese, crackers and orange slices. 

Between an excursion through the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery No. 2, we did go in to the Still Perkin' for a latte and hot tea (pictured above).

The next day, we had a lunchtime treat on the St. Charles street-car line. We rode from downtown all the way out to the terminus. On the way back, we hopped off upon spotting a fairly nice looking place to eat. But upon our walking in, the music was just too loud for us.

Across the street, there was The Trolley Stop Cafe. It didn't look as upscale, appeared to be in the midst of a police action, but what the heck. We're former newspaper people, sometimes still wanting to see what's happening.

What was happening was the fact that this was a popular place, even with the police. They were all over the place, coming and going. The uniformed guys and gals weren't the "Food Police" either. 

There was a big dining area with lots of regular people enjoying the options.

We split another sandwich, this time a po-boy style bun with lots of barbecue beef on it, along with our standard French fries.

Wifey wanted to peruse the menu for deserts. The bread pudding sounded good, and tasted even better.

Looking for places at night we came across Mosperos on Decatur. The next night it was Rotolo's on Bourbon. At Mosperos (sorry, no photos) we directed our waitress' gaze to a customer that had a somewhat large sandwich. 

"Are all sandwiches that big?" The answer was in the affirmative, so we decided to split a hot roast beef and some fries.

The next night we didn't want sandwiches. We wanted pizza. A restaurant hawker standing on the sidewalk of a Bourbon Street establishment didn't get our business, but he directed us down the street.

Coke, salads and pizza. So satisfying at Rotolo's.

The hotel in which we stayed had a daily continental breakfast consisting of bagels, toast, boiled eggs, along with some sweet pastries not to mention coffee, tea, milk and orange juice. So we always had breakfast there.

We'll continue with a few odds and ends and tibbits about New Orleans next week.

Next post: Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Big Easy's Fulton Street a Christmas delight

The Big Easy offered a new Christmas experience for us this year.

We didn't want to travel very far and had only a three-day, two-night trip in mind.

Where else, but New Orleans -- a mere two-hour jaunt.

By the number of past blogs, one realizes that we have been over to Louisiana seemingly more than usual during the past year.

My mind wants to tell me that a December trip to see the downtown decorations was an annual event when growing up.

The iconic Mr. Bingle at Maison Blanche

Mr. Bingle, a snowman-looking figure who was an assistant to Santa Claus, was at the Maison Blanche store overlooking Canal Street. And of course, we waited in long lines to see Santa there.  

The downtown area has changed, as many others throughout the country.

The big department stores once on Canal have taken on a different personna and located in outlying malls.

Nevertheless, we found excitement in various hotel decorations.

The biggest find, which is probably offered each year, is the "Miracle on Fulton Street" which hosts a block-long tented area covering decorated Christmas trees and a variety of plants. A 30-something foot tall tree anchored the west end of the decorations.

Entertainment was just around the bend along with the opportunity for kids of all ages to view real "reindeer ."

And a big "excitement time" for kids of all ages was the machines that blew out artificial "snow" every few minutes.

That wind at times was blowing so hard that it appeared as if there were a blizzard.

The lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel glittered with a winter wonderland look as thousands of white lights strung on trees and plants added to the holiday feeling.

The Royal Sonesta also offered great decorations with many lighted trees inside their lobby.

Time flies by and those were the only nightlife decorations that we were able to take in, not to mention the street lighting along Canal.

In the coming weeks, individual posts will deal with food and quirky (or tacky) things  we came across.

Happy New Year!

Next post: Tuesday, January 11, 2011