Monday, June 3, 2013

New Orleans

Woohoo, Gene and I are on vacation!  We're on vacation!  Actually, we are on our first ever trip without kids to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and we are having a blast!  We are currently in New Orleans for 2 or 3 days.  As always, I'm a morning person and am up early writing and Gene is a night person and is happily sleeping.  I stayed out until TEN last night and was completely exhausted from a full day, so I actually slept in until 6:45 this morning.  That would probably be comparable to a normal person sleeping in until 10:30 or something.  :)

We left home Friday evening after Gene got home from work and we packed up our car and my mom's car with the kids' stuff.  Then we stopped for a quick bite at Panera, so we didn't end up leaving Peoria until a little after 7pm.  Our goal was to drive until Gene was too tired to go on and get as close to Memphis, Tennessee as possible.  A storm system thwarted our plans and heavy winds and driving rain forced us to stop for the night in Troy, Illinois- about 20 miles short of St. Louis.  It was a little disappointing, but this was a serious storm.  We were surrounded by tornado warnings and there were trees and branches all over the highway.  We were going about 25mph and saw two semi-trucks that had blown over in about a half-mile stretch.  It was nasty.

We set off for Memphis Saturday morning with a (I think) five hour drive to Graceland.  It rained steadily most of our drive, but I don't remember any real wind or lightning.  The fields and rivers the entire way down have been terribly flooded.  Anyway, we listened to a little Elvis music on our drive, but what kept going through my head was Paul Simon's song Graceland.  "I'm going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee, I'm going to Graceland.  For reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me wants to see Graceland."  Gene had the entire Graceland album on his phone so we got to listen to that!  Graceland itself was interesting.  I guess I expected it to be MUCH larger or at least somehow more impressive.  Maybe I've seen too many episodes of MTV's Cribs or something, because the superstars of today live in actual MANSIONS with full size skating rinks in their basements and nine hole golf courses on their lawns.  Probably it was pretty crazy to have TVs in every room back in the day, but since that's so common now, it didn't impress me.  I was beyond surprised that we entered the house through a single, regular-sized front door.  Anyway, I did enjoy the entire experience and was really shocked at how much I liked looking at all the costumes and jumpsuits. We paid $4 extra per ticket and added on the car and airplane areas.  They were totally worth the money!  They were more along the lines of expected extravagance.  We looked in all the souvenir shops, but they didn't have anything I needed to own.  Except...  Except for an Elvis Pez dispenser!  It is pretty awesome!

We headed out of Memphis around 5pm and made our way to Jackson, Mississippi.  The weather in Jackson was actually really beautiful, so I eagerly planned an early morning of birding.  There was one of those brown highway signs by our hotel exit that said "To Reservoir".  I had no idea what that meant, but where there is water, there are usually birds.  I woke up and dressed and peeked out the window to see- ugh, rain!  I went anyway.  The reservoir was huge and I hiked back into some woods and found several warblers and zillions of great blue herons and great egrets.  It was a totally worthwhile birding adventure.  I went back to the hotel and while sitting in the breakfast area waiting for Gene, I was reading a publication about free things to do in Jackson this summer.  Watching alligators at the reservoir was number one.  Eek!  I was sort of watching for snakes, but didn't even consider alligators!

On to New Orleans.  I loved, loved that part of the drive!  The never ending swamplands with birds everywhere...  That was really cool.  We eventually made our way to the zoo.  I had read that the zoo is a great place to bird and whoever wrote that was correct!  All of the gorgeous old trees and swamp areas made great homes for wild birds.  We saw at least 5 types of herons, including some darling, "fuzzy" young green herons.  Black crowned night herons and white ibis were everywhere.  We watched a great egret snatch up a little lizard and gulp it down.  The herping was probably even more fun than the birding, with lizards and turtles everywhere and even an occasional snake.  The zoo grounds are just gorgeous.  There had been a fairly major thunderstorm shortly before we got there and we were told most of the animals had indoor access.  We saw everything except giraffes- their yard was too mushy to let them out.  I don't think it rained one drop in the several hours we were there, but the threat from the earlier rain must have kept everyone away because the zoo wasn't busy at all.  We found a hotel for the next couple of nights and then walked down to Bourbon Street. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Café (I think an overpriced tourist trap, but Gene loves it) and then sat in the outdoor gardens at Pat O'Brien's and drank Hurricanes while we talked and I watched chimney swifts and a night heron.  We did a little feather mask shopping for the girls, but I was so exhausted I just wanted my bed.

Whoa!  Gene's up and dressed and I still need to shower and everything.  It's a vacation miracle.  Wowsers, it's a little after 8am, I best be going.

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