Category Archives: Travel

A blast from the antebellum past!

Mobile’s Azalea Trail is more than just a dress …

… although it was the stunning, otherworldly dress in this article ( Meet The Maids ) that caught my eye … and sent me tumbling into a pool of memories. You see, this was me. A long, long time ago. In the world of 1969. When I was named to the court of Mobile’s Azalea Trail Maids. I’m humbled to this day by the honor bestowed upon me.

The whole concept of the Azalea Trail started way back in 1929 when a local horticulturist devised a plan to revitalize the city through a beatification project. Since the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta was (and still is) one of the largest intact wetland ecosystems in America, Mr. Lackland thought to take azalea bushes, which thrived in Mobile’s climate, and plant them along well-traveled roads throughout the city. The Jaycees (now the Mobile Junior Chamber of Commerce} liked his idea and the rest, as they say, is history. At one time, the city painted a pink stripe along the original 15-mile route, but this feature was later outlawed because of state laws. Today, the famous route (sans the pink ribbon marker) has expanded to 35-miles as it rambles through the city. In the spring when the flowers bloom in abundance, the sight is truly spectacular!

In the early days, debutantes would dress up in their finest, and act as ambassadors for the city. Between the flowers and the ladies, tourism soared and the Azalea Trail Court was introduced in 1935. Today, it is a continuing tradition that not only promotes the City of Mobile, but offers scholarships, a chance for travel, national exposure, and opportunities for fifty high school seniors to develop poise and confidence as they speak to large crowds on behalf of their community.

The colors of the dresses today are much more vivid than the delicate pastels my friends and I wore way back when, but the gowns are every bit as dramatic and still stunningly beautiful. My mother was a professional seamstress who was in great demand for her Mardi Gras costume designs, so I got to watch the magic happen in my own home. I saw my gorgeous pastel blue antebellum dress come to life day by day.

Mama made everything for me — the overdress, the hooped petticoat that gave the dress its bell-shape, a wide-brimmed garden hat, the prissy parasol, lacy gauntlets (fingerless gloves), satiny cummerbund, frilly pantaloons, a sweeping bow/sash, and even a faux fur-lined cape for those bitter winter days. She even dyed a corset (longline bra), several pairs of tights, and a pair of Mary Jane shoes to match the color of my dress!

I can still recall the excitement of donning that gown. It was like becoming a different person’ and going back hundreds of years in time. And the weight! After a few hours, the heaviness became a burden. Imagine, fully dressed, each girl wore 40-50 pounds of material—sixty yards of organza, fifteen yards of taffeta, ten yards of broadcloth, ten yards of fur, and who knows how much lace, ribbons, netting, and bows.
Back in my day, the Azalea Trail Maids performed at the Junior Miss Pageant, and appeared in the halftime show of the Senior Bowl Game. We made tons of PR appearances at Bellingrath Gardens, and rode in multiple parades along the pink-striped streets. We learned the art of a genteel curtsy, how to wave and smile with genuine feeling, but most of all we learned about the civility of a bygone time, one filled with poise and grace and generosity of spirit. And all this against a backdrop of azaleas, rhododendrons, gardenias, magnolias, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, violets, and Spanish moss.

This is such an amazing, whimsical memory, one that still brings a smile.

Suggested Links:

Vintage photos show the rich history of Mobile’s Azalea Trail

Bellingrath Gardens

Mobile’s Azalea Trail Maids

25 Things To Know About Mobile

 

A Labor Day Vacay with the Fam at Myrtle Beach!

Just what the doctor ordered!

A long drive over … Tropical Storm Hermine … braving the rain to eat out for lunch at TBONZ … fierce games of Sorry and Triominos while the streets flooded … homemade meatballs and pasta for dinner by the best private chef in the biz! … sunshine, sand, saltwater, sunscreen, and some serious beach time … no-holds’barred mini-golf at Jungle Lagoon, Mount Atlanticus, and Hawaiian Rumble … a happy 40th birthday …. a Thai birthday dinner … more beach time … amazing sunsets … terrific pools …. and then clean up, pack up, and hit the road again.

And a great time was had by all.

Collage

Crosses and Stars of David

Have you ever noticed the gravesites of our brave and courageous American soldiers are marked by crosses, or by the Star of David?

These fine men and women lie in honor all around the world. They fought against oppression and for freedom, under the banner of a Christian nation. That’s what those crosses and stars symbolize.

WWII American Cemetery, Rhone, France

WWII American Cemetery, Rhone, France

This week, leading into the first of three American holidays that honor patriotism and patriots, I find myself meditating on Memorial Day and why we celebrate it.

Memorial Day was originally proclaimed as Decoration Day on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was borne out of the devastation of the Civil War in a desire to honor those who lost their lives during this terrible time in our history. The tradition has carried forth through the years and now encompasses all of the wars that have touched our nation.

Today we pay tribute in remembrance of those who died in service to the United States of America. “Yeah,” you say. “But what does this mean?”

Lives. Men and women who died. Take a look at the following numbers. Let them overwhelm you. And keep in mind these are only the verifiable numbers – which makes me wonder how many were missed in the final count.

Mem Day - War StatisticsIn Flanders Field, a poem by Major John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

During my research for this blog, I ran across this notice: The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”

So, I wonder, why don’t we hear anything about this moment of silence anymore? I challenge you. On Monday, May 30, 2016, at precisely 3:00pm your timeSTOP. Ask yourself where you and yours would be without the sacrifices made by those who believed in and fought on behalf of our country? Remember them. Thank them. And pray for their families.

 

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS — Home Sweet Home

Sunday, September 28th – Still Going Home – Day 7

After a fitful night (it’s still midday back in Sydney), we finally fell into a deeeep sleep around 4 a.m. I managed to drag myself out of bed around 9 a.m. Unfortunately, in my sleep-dazed mind I couldn’t figure out how to get the shower to come on, so had to settle for a bath. It turns out, the front desk stuck a picture-demo in the card key packet showing you had to pull the nozzle down to operate the shower. Paul figured it out when he got up. Oh well.

Comfort Inn breakfastWe ambled over for breakfast around 9 a.m., went back to the room to do some more blogs and email catch-up.

Finally, around noon, we caught the shuttle van back to the Urban Tortillaairport, checked the bags, and found a charging bank near our gate. Had a leisurely lunch at Urban Tortilla – not bad at all for airport food. A little priced … but it’s United’s dollar and we’re worth it.Charging

Flight was on time, though full. We had to check our carry-ons. Hey, that was free, too, so it made it worthwhile. The only thing was I refused to check my laptop, so had to wedge it in my one carry-on “personal” tote.

Bless our sweet daughter for coming out to the Atlanta airport at midnight to pick us up, even ATLthough she had to work the next day. Finally made it home around 1:00 a.m. Home never looked so good. I missed my bed, my TV, my kitchen, my hairdryer, my bathroom, driving (on the right side of the road), grocery stores, sweet tea, salsa, friends, and the list goes on.

And so, as is wont, all good things come to an end.

Adios (Mexico) …  Araua’e (French Polynesia) … Moce mada (Fiji) …  Adieu (New Caledonia) … G’day (Aussie) … Ya minyah (one Aboriginal dialect) … and Goodbye!

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig!

Jiggity-Jig

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS — Going Home – Day 6

Saturday, September 27th – To Sydney Airport and Homeward Bound

Airport ShuttleThe day started out uneventful with a doorstep pickup by the Airbus Airport Shuttle. A thirty minute ride later and we were walking into the International Terminal (separate location from the Domestic Terminal) of Sydney Airport.

Can’t tell you how much we dreaded the 13-hour flight, but it turned out to be very comfortable. The seating alignment was 3 on the left, 3 in the middle, and 3 on the right … except where the galley broke. We wound up in the 2 seat alignment on the right side. UA Seat mapRoooomy with extra leg space, 110 volt outlets, a wide selection of free movies, and food the whole darn trip. (I thought we’d gotten away from every-other-hour eating.) Even with it pitch black outside for the majority of the trip, it was very comfortable.

We both stayed awake for the whole flight – Paul watched three movies and I read most of the time. Our plane took off on time from Sydney at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday and landed on time in San Francisco at 11:33 a.m. on Saturday. Crazy! Jet lag You get kinks in your brain trying to figure the time zones out! Alas, we hit a snafu. Another plane was late departing and had taken up residence at our assigned gate.

Thirty minutes we sat on the runway waiting! Once we pulled up to the gate (you travelers know the drill), you hurry up and wait to debark. Then you walk as fast as you can about a quarter-mile to get in line again to go through Immigration. Then you walk as fast as you can again (another quarter-mile or so) to reach the international baggage claim where you wait for the bags to arrive. Once you claim your bags, you walk as fast as you can down a long hall to get in another line to clear customs. Almost there … another long hall to recheck your bags ….. and come to a screeching halt. We’re now inside the 45-minute window to transfer checked bags to another flight.
Yep. We got yanked out of that line and sent to …RE-BOOKING. Thanks to inclement weather in Chicago the day before, everything is backed up and overbooked. Nothing available heading to Atlanta, not even on the other airlines.

The nice United agent lady apologized profusely and offered a 40% discount on a hotel for an overnight stay. And didn’t that just fry my hide! Nope. We walked out of there re-booked for the next day with aisle seats, a hotel voucher for 100%, and meal Tiredvouchers for dinner, breakfast, and lunch. Irritating, but as my sweet cousin-in-law, Lynno (as the Aussies would call her), says – might be a blessing in disguise. I think it was a blessing, because we hit the hotel room, shoved the bags in the door, and crashed!

Cecilias PizzaWe did manage to have dinner later – a 15-minute walk and a superb pizza at Cecilia’s in South San Fran – and somehow managed to stay up until 9:00 p.m. (midnight Atlanta time).

Why is it the time changes going from East to West (geographically, not direction-ally) is so much harder than the other way?

Almost home … again. Can’t wait to see my kids and grand kids!

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 5 – Shopping in Sydney

Friday, September 26th – Sydney – Day 5

Okay, I’m running out of steam. Got a few more things to buy and I’m done. We walked this Volle Jewelry Opalsmorning to Queen Victoria square to the opal store. Had a voucher, got a very nice discount, and my honey bought me a beautiful pendant. I learned more about opals than I ever wanted to know! Even saw one unset with a purchase price of over $6,000!

Haighs ChocolatesNext stop? Chocolates. Haigh’s Chocolates to be exact. A famous Australian chocolatier. They make great little handout gifts.

A return trip down the street and we reconverted the few Aussie dollars we had left back into US dollars.Aussie Dollars The paper money was easy, but we never did figure out the coins.

The afternoon we spent napping, repacking, charging, polishing off the rest of the wine, blogging, and reading.

For dinner, we went to a local sports pub (had to experience the local ambiance) for a steak dinner. Oh, I forgot to mention before, we had Bulgogi on Thursday night – a Korean delicacy complete with Kimchi!

After we got back to the Meriton, we had our notification email to check-in online. We tried, but shortly received a text message from United saying our flight had been cancelled. Oh bother, as Pooh would say. A phone call to United and we were re-booked on a later flight to San Francisco. Wound up paying almost US $400 extra to get decent seats, but we’re going home.Going Home

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 4 – Walkabout in Sydney

Thursday, September 25th – Sydney – Day 4 – Walkabout in Sydney

Today is on our own, so we decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. Paul is so excited about having internet service again. He’s spent hours catching up his email. Me? I’m trying to post my travel blogs.

It’s been interesting keeping our electronic devices charged. The front desk loaned us one Adaptor plugpower converter (we use 110v while Australia uses 240v). You can’t power them up during the day because (like England) hotels require you to leave your room card in the slot by the door to keep the power on. (We tried leaving my card in during the Blue Mountain tour, but the maid removed it.) They’re very power conscious here, and try to conserve energy as much as possible. Kudos to them. All the outlets/switches have little on/off power buttons.

Today, we ate at an open-air French bistro. Latte is very popular here. You have to express very clearly when you order that you want “light” or “black” – because they blend the milk/coffee mixture in for you. The pastries are melt-in-your-mouth light.

We found the Hop On/Hop Off double-decker bus and took the two narrated tours – the Sydney Explorer which ran a very circuitous route through Sydney and its many harbors, and the other to Bondi (pronounced Bohn-Dye) and more shoreline. Incredible views of the Sydney skyline. And the water…. oooh! One of my favorite sights was a high rise with vines covering most of one windowed-wall. Spectacular.

IMG_5010 IMG_5009 IMG_5008

 

 

 

 

A funny little story we heard several times is about the meaning of the word Kangaroo. It’s an aboriginal word. Apparently, when one of the early explorers arrived, he asked an aborigine tribal leader what that strange jumping animal with the big tail and powerful hind legs was called. The tribal leader, not understanding English, responded, “Kangaroo?” Which in his language meant, “I don’t understand.” I have to admit I laughed every time I heard it.

Kangaroo means...

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 3 – Blue Mountains Tour

Wednesday, September 24th – Sydney – Day 3 – Featherdale Wildlife Park, Three Sisters, and Scenic World

Activity Tours picked us up same place, same time on Wednesday. Our first stop—the Featherdale Wildlife ParkFeatherdale Wildlife Park. There, we took pictures of koalas, wombats (not a bat), kangaroos, emus, an Australian crocodile (his name was Dundee!), scads of birds/owls/flying predators, wallabys, Tasmanian devils, spiny echidnas (pronounce ih-KID-nuh), and on and on and on. Great time there!

Koala and Pal Betty

Koala - 2

Bird - Colorful

 

 

 

 

Dingo (Wild Dog)

Dundee the Croc

Tasmanian Devil Wombat - 2 Wallabys and Pal Betty Goannas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we broke the ride up with a stop a small park for a quick 15-minute “bush walk” down to Leuraa local falls. After that, we stopped in the little town of Leura for lunch and shopping. Very nice.

Our next stop was at Scenic World. You take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain Gordon Fallsplateau, take one of the many raised walkways through the canopy, and descend again on a 52-degree incline railroad. Of course, you have the mandatory exit through the gift shop. The Three Sisters and Usviews are spectacular, overlooking a mini-Grand Canyon with their famous Three Sisters pedestal. The legend has it there were originally 7 “sisters,” but time and weather eroded four of them away. Today, the three monoliths stand side by side with a nub at the end. Locals affectionately call this their puppy.

We also made friends with a family from Malaysia — even exchanged emails. Our Tour Mates

The experience was marred (only slightly) by the influx of the “green jackets.” Good for Sydney, not so good for the smaller tours. Some 6,000 healthcare professionals from China descended on the city for a week-long conference. Of course this day, their final day in town, was dedicated to tourism. We managed to avoid them until Scenic World. In some eastern countries, there is no sense of what we call personal space. Contention for space, taxis, entrance – you name it – is based on who can get their toe in the door first. Even though that’s not the culture of Australia, it’s hard to overcome the onslaught of thousands of these green jackets letting their fellow green jackets break into the queues. Annoying. We never did get to take the cable car across the valley because of this.

Harbor bridge at sunsetRiver FerryThe tour was capped off with a quick visit to the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and then a relaxing ferry taxi back to Sydney. Amazing views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset.

After our return to the city, we ate at another Thai restaurant (Siam House) the Meriton recommended. Can I say YUM?!

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 2 – Hunter Valley Wineries

Tuesday, September 23rd – Sydney – Day 2

Sydney - Activity ToursActivity Tours is the name of the organization Paul booked our tours through online. Today, we visited three boutique wineries in the Hunter Valley region.

The trip started brighSydney - Pie Face Eatery 2t and early with a pick-up at our doorstep at 7:40 a.m. That meant an early rising (not hard for us with all the time changes we’d made on the ship) and a visit to Pie Face, a local patisserie. A really neat concept, fresh baked goods made daily from local products and delivered to several franchised locations throughout the city. Most of the street-level shops along George Street are “open air.” We each chose a mini quiche and coffee. Delicious, but what a surprise! Food in Australia is expennnnnsive! Our little breakfast cost AUD 21. Ouch! We started drinking water after that.

Our ride to Hunter Valley (in a Caravan type minivan) with 12 other passengers took Sydney - Activity Tours - Ernest Hill Wineryapproximately 2 hours. Once we arrived at the Ernest Hill Winery (a small family-owned winery that sells only at the cellar door; no exports; no commercial sales in country), we were treated to a taste testing. One of the family members explained each of the wines we tasted which were named after deceased ancestors – (Cracklin’ Rosie Rose’). We bought two bottles there.

The next stop was at the Iron Gate Winery. This grower/distiller is fairly new to the region, but Sydney - Activity Tours - Iron Gate Winery rosebusheswith several awards under his belt. A retired industrial chemist, he uses science to create his product. Considered a “little bit off center,” he’s made a reputation for himself of producing creative combinations of the highest quality. They still continue the tradition of planting a rose bush at the head of each row — an ‘early warning’ system to alert them early of any potential blight problems that might affect the grapes. We bought a case of wine there and shipped it home since we’re restricted to 2 liters duty free to carry with us.

The next stop – lunch at a local café, followed by souvenir shopping at a small shopping area. We visited a third winery on our own and bought a loaf of fresh baked French  bread and a Sydney - Kangaroos by the roadlovely round of brie. That, plus the wine we  bought early made up our supper.  On the return drive, we saw kangaroos by the roadside. They prefer shade over open sun, so they’re usually found hiding in the trees and shadows.

After a long 10-hour day of touring, we were more than ready for bed. After all, we just spent the last three weeks lazing and grazing, hardly having to do more than take the elevator up or down to the feeding troughs!

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 1

Monday, September 22nd  –  Sydney – Day 1

We woke to blue skies and a huge harbor ahead. The Legend came to Australia to replace the Carnival Spirit, which is being moved to Alaska. The Legend, which is significantly larger than the Spirit, is making quite a splash in the Sydney news media. We waited at the mouth of the harbor for the local news helicopter to show. Once they did, we made our slow, cumbersome Sydney - Arrival - Opera Houe 5way into dock.

In Noumea, the Australian Girls Choir joined the ship. Now, at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, 2,500 passengers (give or take a few) and most of the crew lined the top decks waving Australian flags while the choir sang Australian favorites and the flag team performed a dramatic presentation of flags. We  docked directly across from the Sydney Opera House — a spectacular view … and we were there for this historic moment. Even got to watch on local TV later that night.

Since our hotel check-in wasn’t until 2:00pm, we elected a relaxed debarkation and didn’t leave the ship until almost 10:00am. A short taxi drive later ($40.00 worth!) down George Street (Atlanta’s equivalent of Peachtree Street), we arrived at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. What a great bunch of people there!. Not only did they let us leave our bags, they made Sydney - George Streetseveral suggestions about changing US Dollars to Aussie Dollars, a free bus, and the best places to eat in the area.

We set off on foot back along George Street, which runs in a north/south direction. Along the way, we found several money exchange places and converted some currency. We also found the green and white 555 bus that runs from the Circular Quay (pronounced kee) where the ship docked to Chinatown (near our hotel). Funny, the locals call it Thainatown because of the proliferation of Thai restaurants.

We rode the bus for a full loop, and then got off and walked several blocks to the east. Sydney is a hodgepodge of modern eclectic, historical protected building, and a cultural diversity that is impossible to explain. You really need to experience it for yourself.

Thoroughly wowed, we found our way back to the Meriton and settled into our room. Serviced Sydney - Meriton 2apartments are similar to a hotel, but we think they’re better. Our quarters contained one small bedroom with king size bed, a closet (one side for hanging clothes, the other side with drawers for folded things), and a flat screen TV on the wall. We also had a living room Sydney - Meriton 3 Sydney - Meriton 4area with a 48” flat screen, sofa, chair, small table with 2 chairs, an offset full kitchen area (full size fridge, cook top, toaster oven, electric kettle, and full complement of dishes), a desk area, and lovely bathroom with walk-in shower. Oh yes, mirrors everywhere!

Later, we ventured out again to sample one of the recommended Thai restaurants.