Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Louis' -- a City by the Bay tradition

We like to try new places to eat when visiting areas we enjoy.

But we also like to go back to the "tried and true" spots that offer a feeling of days gone by.

Such is the desire when we go to San Francisco.

And that desire always leads us to the restaurant that overlooks the Pacific and hangs off the side of a cliff -- Louis'.

We can't go to the City by the Bay without a visit to this old-style diner.

It must have  been sometime  back in the 80's when we discovered this eatery.

I think it was when we took the touristy 49-mile drive around the city and wanted to see what it was like to have a meal hanging off the side of a cliff in an earthquake prone area.

Louis' is located at 902 Point Lobos Ave., just up the hill from the Cliff House. The restaurant overlooks the ruins of what use to be the Sutro Baths

When downtown, just get on Geary Boulevard, head west, and keep going and going and going. Eventually Point Lobos branches off from Geary close to the ocean and one heads down a (what else) steep hill heading toward the Pacific.

Point Lobos curves to the south and turns into the Great Highway that runs for miles along the Pacific.

Louis' is similar to a spot in our area where we go for breakfast. The service is friendly and the food is OK. The view is to die for.

Unlike back home, they don't serve grits and biscuits with breakfast, so I end up supplementing my eggs "sunny side up" with hashbrowns and an English muffin.

Another tidbit of interest.  For the first 10 or 15 times we visited, we were often waited on by Rachel, an elderly English lady. She was good at her job and provided a little extra atmosphere for our visits.

The last time we visited, she wasn't around. Seems that time had finally caught up to her and she retired.

A number of years ago the National Park Service, which owns the land, put out a "trial balloon" concerning the possibility of doing away with the eatery. Needless to say, the uproar was such that Louis is still around.

The Hontalases family, which has been operating the landmark for 73 years, just last year won a 10-year lease on the property beating out three other bidders.

We hope that the family can continue on for as many years as we return to the City by they Bay.

Next post: April 5, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Smokies offer different dynamic

Vehicles few and far between on mountain

Each time we visit the Great Smoky Mountains, there seems to be a different dynamic in play.

Our most recent trip was of that variety.

We have spent summer camping trips to the area when there was a lot of rain. We have been there in clear weather and during times of intermittent thunderstorms.

Whiteout at Newfound Gap overlook 

But nothing which I consider as dangerous.

This last time, back in early March,  it was a little different.

There was the appearance of danger all around. Heavy rains from the previous week put all rivers and streams at a higher level and running faster than we have experienced previously.

Self-portrait in winter wonderland

As mentioned in the previous blog, traveling the Little River Road from Townsend to Gatlinburg was an exhilarating experience.

The river was running swift and deep. At places the water was within two to three feet of the roadway. Normally it is about six to eight feet below the road.

We saw more than usual waterfalls cascading down the sides of the hills along the roadway. There were big ones and small ones. Definitely different that what we are usually expecting, But it made for a pretty sight.

And then there was the trip from the Sugarlands Visitors Center near Gatlinburg up to Newfound Gap.

As we headed up to the pass, I told wifey that we could go on over to Cherokee but if the there was snow falling, the road would probably be closed later in the day and we'd have to take a longer way back.

We stopped and ate lunch at the Chimney's Picnic Area. There were only two other vehicles there at the time. We backed into a double parking spot and angled our van so that we would be parallel with the Little Pigeon River.

Chimney's picnic area

We had our meal of fruit and sandwiches while watching the river rampaging down the mountainside.

During the summer, thousands of people use the picnic area each day and enjoy the river which is of a more peaceful nature.

As we headed higher, the snow began falling and getting heavier. Misery loves company and we enjoyed the fact that others were making the trek with us up to the pass.

Newfound Gap road work necessitates momentary stop

Crews were working on portions of the road along the way and we had to stop for a short while since traffic was routed over a one-lane stretch.

The higher we went, the more snow was falling. I kept telling wifey that we would probably not go any farther than the gap.  We continued the climb admidst the winter wonderland.

It was exhilarating. If it weren't the middle of the day, we probably wouldn't have tried to go up the mountain. In spite of the snow, there was still a lot of daylight, and we finally made it to the gap in what one could describe as a whiteout.

In the parking area we looked toward where North Carolina is. But visibility was only about 30 to 50 feet. People were out shooting pictures and enjoying what scenery there was.

'Must-shoot' photo required by wifey
The wind had picked up and the flurries were getting heavier. After about 10 minutes of shooting some pictures (wifey remained in the van), I got back in and we headed back down to Gatlinburg.

Cherokee would have to wait for another day.

Next post: March 29, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Smoky Mountains, good in any weather

Space Needle amidst motel window raindrops

"Did you have a good trip, or did it rain?" my neighbor asked.

"It rained. And we did have a good trip," I responded.

The trip she was referring to was our Mardi Gras vacation excursion to Boone, NC (two nights) and then to Gatlinburg, TN where we spent three nights and almost three whole days.

We were in rain (and some snow) for most of the seven days we were gone. But that didn't really matter that much. The trip was a break from driving a school bus although we did manage to log almost 3,000 miles.

We were greeted our first morning in Gatlinburg, by what else? Raindrops falling on our heads. Not really. We saw them on the window of our motel room.

We had decided that since our snow skiing went well, we weren't going to be discouraged about a different kind of precipitation.

The motel's continental breakfast of which we had bagels, did the trick. I had some coffee. Wifey had brought a hotpot we had purchased in San Francisco a number of years ago. It was promoted as heating water faster than a microwave.

That's what she used to heat her water for tea. There was a hot water spigot on the coffee pot in the motel kitchen, but I didn't use it.

Then it was off down a paved trail into the countryside where artists reside. It was early, most shops weren't open, so we decided to head to Pigeon Forge for our traditional trip to the Coleman store and to the  Jockey outlet. I also browsed through the Izod store. We bought something at all three outlets.

Then it was through Wear's Valley to Townsend and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for another traditional happening -- picnicking and then a jaunt around the 11-mile one-way Cades Cove Road.

Rainfall during the previous week had caused the rivers in the park to rise and in places they were running furiously. Even at the Cades Cove picnic area, the small, pleasant streams that ran through the area in the summertimne had grown and were cascading over rocks.

A pine tree was lying across the road at the parking area near the Ranger's station and the campground store in Cades Cove. Seems that the ground had been softened by the rain or either the wind blew it over. I think both were involved.

Treacherous Little River near Townsend

We took a slow journey down the cove road enjoying the scenery while stopping to take pictures of deer and turkey, but no bears. It was just too early in the season. 

Heading out of the cove and toward Elmont Campground to the east, we took the Little River Road which ran, of course, along the Little River.  But the river wasn't that little and inviting-looking like it is in the summer. The water was up and running fast.

That apparently is what drew out two rafters that we saw making their way down the river.

Little River gushes through Elkmont campground

Elkmont campground was closed for the season, but we had to drive in to see how the river was as is meandered through the area. It was wild and wooly.

Next post: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 -- More on Gatlinburg and our snowy adventure to New Found Gap.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Skiing is sweet on Sugar Mountain

"March Madness" fun on Sugar Mountain.

We arrived in Boone, NC around 5 p.m. March 6 to ski the next day at Sugar Mountain.

We have traveled to the area about five or six times over the past 15 or 20 years.

Your's truly out for a good time
On occasion we went right before Christmas. On others is was during the President's Day weekend and now we look to go when school is out for Mardi Gras on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Last year, Mardi Gras was a little earlier.  We didn't manage the trip then for whatever reason.

This year Mardi Gras was a little later. Using the holidays in our area is good, but when they come later in the year, the snow  on the mountains some 600 miles away begins melting. 

But then again when this happens, with the skiing season winding down, the businesses reduce their prices, which is good.

We were wondering how it would be this year. I had kept on top of the weather reports. Rain was in the mix for the week leading up to our arrival.

Longest run down mountain is right at a mile
Some of the weather websites were reporting rain through Sunday afternoon and hinting of snow on Sunday night.

They were right.

Light snow  began to fall as we arrived in Boone. Upon arriving at the ski lodge the next morning, we were told that they had had about four inches.

Taking a lunch break
All in all, the weather turned out to be perfect for the day. Skies cleared, the sun came out and with the overnight snow, the hillsides and trees were all white.

It was a true winter wonderland. 

Crowds were sparse for the morning. The first two hours ( 9 to 11) I did five trips each on Easy Street, the beginner slope. 

Temperatures started out around 29 degrees and went up
Wifey started out on what could be called the extreme beginners slope. We joined up for a number of trips down Easy Street.

I would sometimes branch off on the "Little Nell" run. The first two or three times, this was great, but with the sun beginning to beat down, this trail began developing a number of bare spots.

Wifey skied one run after lunch. I managed to stay on the slopes until 3 p.m.

Mostly during this time I took a different lift and got off to ski the Easy Street extention on the right, or worked back to the left of the lift on the main run down the major hill.

I didn't make it to the top of the mountain as I had done in the past. Maybe if someone else had challenged me, that would have happened. 

Maybe next year. I'll only be 67 then.

(Note: Wifey took all of these pictures because of a camera malfunction with my equipment)

Next post: Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It is like going home, almost

Comfort and familiarity is important.

Especially when traveling long distances or just taking a weekend trip.

We do try new places to stay during our travels, and if we like the location, and price, then it becomes a mainstay.

Dancing waters on courtyard fountain

During travels to New Orleans, we have stayed in a number of different lodging establishments.

Years ago, when we had a smaller vehicle, we stayed just off Jackson Square. The accommodations were comfortable, fit within our budget, and one could just step out the front door and be in the activity of the French Quarter. They also had a really good continental breakfast in a charming room. Or one could go out and make use of tables in the garden.

Hotel Provincial courtyard

Our vehicle would fit in their parking garage, and there wasn't any additional fee. We moved on to a larger vehicle and it wouldn't fit. They also started doing like others throughout the country and began charging for parking, which amounted to almost one-third of a night's stay.

We looked elsewhere. . .

. . . and went back to a place we had visited years earlier, the Hotel Provincial on Chartres, east of Washington Square.

On our first visit they put us in a room on the second floor overlooking Chartres Street. As well as I could remember, the room was full of antiques or items resembling antiques.

I do remember that, after having spent a little time in the room, I looked around for my keys, with the hunt taking me to the door. The keys were on the outside.

When heading back to the Big Easy, this hotel is now on the top of our list.

Add caption

We stop off at the Louisiana visitors center on Interstate 10 and obtain a flyer  that allows for a (walk-in) discount price on the room and complimentary parking (don't expect such a good deal on holidays or special events. The fee for weekends is higher). They also offer a nice continental breakfast.

Other hotels and motels have flyers at the visitors center offering discounted rates and such, but we know there won't be any problem parking our van.

Light breakfast at the Provincial

Adjacent upscale restaurant

We have stayed at the Hotel Provincial the last three times and look forward to our next visit.

Next post: March 8, 2011