The past few weeks have been very busy with work and travel – which included a visit to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. I’ll be sharing more about this beautiful and surprisingly accessible destination soon.
In the meantime, here’s a “sneak-peak” photo of Carrieanna and our tour guide at one of the famous Hearst Castle pools. Enjoy!
During that visit I was especially mindful of, and mentioned, wheelchair accessibility.
I returned to New Orleans in February of 2023, this time with my two sons and their ladies, and our two service dogs.
Our main focus was finding great food throughout the day, and taking the dogs to new and welcoming places!
(Note: Although I had visited some of these locations previously, Leah researched and suggested many of the restaurants, and George found two out-of-area parks for the dogs to explore.)
In a future post – “Kilo and Harley Visit New Orleans” – I will focus on the dogs, parks, cigar shops, cemeteries, and parades.
But this post is all about NOLA food!
Bearcat Cafe– Uptown
Although Kealoha had to work online during the week, her 11:00 am start time on Wednesday allowed us to travel to Bearcat Cafe on Jena Street for breakfast.
We were seated inside, where Kilo and Harley were able to lay quietly under the table and out of the way. Our server was patient with our questions, gave good suggestions for gluten-free / special diet entries, and even shared the recipe for the outstanding cauliflower grits!
Since this was the first time Leah and Kealoha had visited NOLA, of course we had to take them to a New Orleans classic: Cafe du Monde.
We were staying in an AirB&B on Frenchmen Street, an easy 30-minute walk to Decatur Street and the powdered sugar-coated goodness of beignets and cafe au lait. Again the dogs lay at our feet, unfazed by the people, the boisterous jazz ensemble on the corner, or the little birds seeking sugary crumbs.
To accommodate Kealoha’s work schedule, we went early on a Tuesday morning and were delighted to find many empty tables. We each ordered a cafe au lait and a plate of beignets: three freshly-fried puffs of pastry heaping with powdered sugar. Yum!
In 2015 Amanda and I had a birthday lunch at Commander’s Palace, and I wanted my sons to have the same great experience. So I encouraged them to have a “day date” with their ladies and take them to a fancy lunch.
They all ordered the special “Mardi Hog” pork belly lunch, George imbibed in the 25-cent martinis, and the four of them shared a strawberry shortcake for dessert. They came home full and happy!
District Donuts, Sliders and Brew
One afternoon we grabbed lunch at District Donuts on Harrison, another suggestion of Leah’s. Although we missed breakfast and the Hot Chicken and Honey Butter Biscuit, we were delighted with the sliders and desserts we ordered!
Traveling from Florida, Kealoha and George arrived in New Orleans a few hours before we Texians did. Kealoha had to work, so George found a cigar shop (Crescent City Cigars) and chatted with Tracy, the owner, who recommended we eat at Coop’s Place on Decatur.
We had lunch there the next day, and found Tracy’s recommendation to be spot-on! Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage, Steak Po boy, Cajun Pasta, and Blackened Redfish. All delicious!
And the pups were comfortably tucked under the table, enjoying the smells!
As we were planning our trip – and our food destinations – I had only one request: Gumbo at Camellia Grill! And it was as delicious as I remembered!
The only eatery we visited twice in one week, Cochon Butcher’s sandwiches and sides were worth the cross-town drive!
In fact, our second visit was on a Saturday and many streets near Cochon Butcher were blocked off for the Krewe of Pontchartrain parade. That didn’t deter us; we circled tighter and tighter until we were within walking distance, then found a parking spot and walked in the rain to get to our muffaletta and cubano sandwiches. THAT’s how good they were!
This tiny shop offers the best specialty Italian desserts. We brought home Lemon Ice, rum-flavored Sciallotti gelato, and an array of sweets – including freshly-made cannoli that reminded me of my visit to Sicily a dozen years ago!
A SPECIAL TRIBUTE
When I started this blog in April of 2012, one of my greatest fans – and a frequent commenter – was Ted Hess, Carrieanna’s uncle and my sweetheart’s older brother.
Ted’s remarks were always encouraging. He appreciated my adventures and, especially, my photography.
Frankly, one of the reasons I’ve maintained this blog is because I knew Ted enjoyed it so much, and it enhanced his connection to Carrieanna in a special way.
When I visited New Orleans in 2015, Ted encouraged me to have oysters on the half shell and a beer on his behalf. Alas, I could not bring myself to eat raw oysters, and Ted teasingly commented about that omission.
Ted passed away last November, and I have lost a great fan and supporter.
So when given the opportunity, at Cooter Brown’s, to have a raw oyster in his honor, I had to do it. Kealoha was happy to share her bounty with me.
George suggested I have a Vodka Oyster Shooter. Kealoha and Leah joined me in this toast.
Cheers and Godspeed, Ted. Thank you for your humor, wisdom, and enduring support. We miss you.
The 416-acre park, a gift of the William Cameron family, features towering live oaks, stunning bluffs overlooking the Brazos and Bosque Rivers, and a National Recreation Trail system. Mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians share the park with disc golfers, picnickers, and bird watchers. Cameron Park is one of Waco’s greatest treasures ….
One unique highlight was Jacob’s Ladder – although it clearly is not accessible!
Climbing this quirky staircase is one of Cameron Park’s most beloved challenges. Built in the early 1900s by a family living at the top of the bluff, the original ladder was constructed entirely out of cedar trees from the park.
The present-day Jacob’s Ladder was completed in 1963 and is characterized by its cedar railing, zigzag design and uneven cement stairs. Each step was built according to the ground’s slope, which accounts for the uniqueness of each step. The aged structure now includes 88 winding steps to the top and is still usable today, due to periodic renovations.
Trekking up and down Jacob’s Ladder tired the pups and their humans! So we took a short break and had a little lunch at one of Cameron Park’s many picnic tables.
Refreshed and ready to continue walking and exploring, we headed upriver along the Waco Riverwalk.
The Waco Riverwalk includes approximately seven miles of multi-use, lighted trail that loops along both banks of the Brazos River. The scenic riverwalk stretches from Baylor University to Cameron Park and passes underneath the Suspension Bridge. The rivewalk is accessible from various points through downtown Waco and captures the natural beauty of the Brazos River Corridor.
Waco Sculpture Zoo
Along the way we passed numerous sculptures, which we later learned were part of the Waco Sculpture Zoo and represented animals that are native and/or can be found in the nearby Cameron Park Zoo.
The mile-long stretch of the Waco Sculpture Zoo features 28 artworks varying in style, form and materials. Each sculpture represents an animal that can be found in Cameron Park Zoo or that is native to the area …
The sculptures were commissioned by Creative Waco following a national call for artists, a rigorous juried selection process and the generosity of private donors. The project features work by 17 different artists from across the United States, including 2 local sculptors.
Magnolia Market at the Silos
Sufficiently tired from our walk in the park and along the river, we loaded up the car and traveled a few blocks to our primary destination: Magnolia Market and, most especially, the Silos Baking Co.
Magnolia Market and its famous landmark silos occupy two city blocks in downtown Waco. Owned by HGTV “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, the store offers items in Joanna’s unique style.
Admission to the complex is free. Visitors can play free games on the lawn or picnic in the shade. The shops and grounds are updated frequently, so be sure to come back to see how it grows and changes with the seasons!
Saving the bakery for last, we first walked around the grounds, browsing Magnolia Market and the Seed + Supply shop and admiring the adjacent garden.
The paths were wide and wheelchair friendly, there were food trucks and plenty of benches and other types of seating, as well as large grassy areas for picnicking and play.
(Note: This “grass” is artificial. There are signs posted asking that visitors take their pets to the real grass in the back of the shopping area to “do their business.”)
According to the website, this building was part of the cotton oil mill at the Silos, and later became a flower shop called Rosetree Floral.
Chip and Joanna Gaines bought the Silos property in 2014 and turned this century-old building into a signature bakery, “filled with Jo’s personal recipes and hand-picked favorites.”
I had heard that the Strawberries ‘N Cream cupcake was amazing – and the rumor was true! It was one of the most delicious cupcakes I have ever eaten! In fact, we bought two!
We also purchased the Lemon Lavender and the Chocolatier cupcakes, as well as a sampling of cookies: Classic Chocolate Chip, Brownie Cookie, and our favorite – The Silo Cookie (oatmeal chocolate chip with peanut butter chips and walnuts).
We’ll Be Back!
Our day in Waco was the perfect way to celebrate Leah’s birthday!
And when friends and family come to visit us in Texas, you can be sure we’ll add the Waco Riverwalk and The Silos to our “must visit” list.
To honor the 13th anniversary of Rich’s passing (on September 8, 2022) I wanted to go to a place I thought he would enjoy. Since I have moved to Texas, visiting the Northern California coast was not an option.
Instead, I decided to visit a botanic garden – an activity that we had enjoyed together, most notably in Santa Cruz and in Amsterdam.
(And nine years ago, while traveling in New Zealand, I visited the most spectacular garden in Dunedin! It’s my absolute favorite, and I think Rich would have loved it too!)
Earlier this year, while a California friend was visiting, we went to Austin’s Zilker Botanical Garden. It’s a lovely garden, but I wanted to get out and explore a little further from home.
So I decided to travel north and check out Fort Worth Botanic Garden. It was the perfect place to honor Rich’s memory.
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was established in 1934 and is the oldest major botanic garden in Texas. It contains a collection of more than 2,500 species of plants. Long celebrated for its beautiful rose, perennial and Japanese gardens, the FWBG is composed of twenty-three specialty gardens, including a tropical conservatory, a forest boardwalk, and a water conservation garden.
The Garden’s 10,000 square foot conservatory contains plants from tropical rainforests all over the world and an on-site greenhouse is home to the largest begonia collection in North America.
(I failed to visit the greenhouse conservatory. Obviously I need to go back – probably next spring!)
The Educational Side of the Gardens
The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT®) began in 1987 as a nonprofit overseeing the former Southern Methodist University 450,000-specimen herbarium and 75,000-volume botanical library relocated to a 20th century warehouse in downtown Fort Worth. The nonprofit eventually built and moved to a Platinum LEED-certified building on grounds adjacent to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
Since that time, BRIT has grown into a renowned scientific research, education, and conservation center with a state-of-the-art molecular and structural lab, conservation seed bank, an established press and 1.5 million-specimen herbarium.
Joint Missions Become One Nonprofit
On October 1, 2020, after two years of successful partnership initiatives (involving Education, Volunteer and Membership programs) the two organizations with similar plant-based missions combined to become a single nonprofit.
Japanese Garden | Rose Garden
Spend the day strolling through the Japanese Garden with its koi-filled pools, landscaped hillsides, crafted stonework and dramatic waterfalls.
I did just that, and found that this garden to be a favorite spot, both for reflection and photography!
Nearby, visit the iconic and historic Rose Garden, which includes a terraced ramp featuring walks that border colorful rose beds amidst a cascade of water down the center.
Unfortunately, there was no cascade of water when I visited. Another reason to return!
I found most of the garden to be wheelchair accessible. There was a detour around the Native Forest Boardwalk, and the path became packed mulch rather than pavement. A motorized wheelchair or scooter could have navigated it easily; a manual wheelchair might have a bit of trouble.
Manual wheelchairs are available free to our guests on a first-come, first-served basis. These mobility aids are not available by reservation.
Electric scooters may be rented for $30 per day, with no in/out privileges. This rental fee is not eligible for a member discount. Scooter maximum carrying capacity is 400 pounds per person. Scooters are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are not available by reservation.
There were wide paved and, mostly, level pathways throughout the garden.
Frequently when I encountered stairs I also found an alternate route that was wheelchair accessible.
The Gardens Through My Lens
Of course I spent most of the day wandering and taking photos.
I think Rich would have enjoyed this botanical gem. I certainly did!
Do you have a favorite botanical garden? If so, I’d love to hear about it!
For many years I enjoyed seeking out the murals created during Sacramento’s annual Wide Open Walls festival. (Click here to read my post from March 30, 2018)
I recently moved to central Texas, about 24 miles northeast of Austin.
While I am aware that the capitol city boasts many murals, I am delighted to find unique and whimsical art right here in my new home town, Hutto, Texas!
The Legend of the Hutto Hippo
In a July 2022 article published in in the East Wilco Insider, writer Fernando Castro shares the legend of the original Hutto Hippo.
In 1915, a circus train reportedly pulled into the Hutto depot. According to legend, a hippopotamus escaped from a railcar and went for a dip in Cottonwood Creek next to the rail line. The other name for a hippo is, of course, river horse.
Circus workers tried to coax the animal from the creek and return it to the train as nearby farmers and merchants watched in hilarity. Meanwhile the depot agent telegraphed [nearby towns] Taylor and Round Rock with a message to “Stop trains; hippo loose in Hutto.”
Whether or not this tale is true, the schools, businesses and residents of Hutto have embraced the hippo as their town mascot.
I recently spoke with “Hippo Mayor” Mike Fowler, local historian and author, retired State of Texas employee, and former Councilman and Hutto City Mayor.
In his article “The Hippo Legacy in Hutto and Our World,” Mr. Fowler writes extensively about the history of the Hutto Hippo, with an eye toward promoting the hippo branding for the community.
I think his branding efforts have been very successful! Statues of hippos, large and small, adorn residential lawns.
Business logos and other identifiers are painted on hippos greeting customers.
Mr. Fowler was one of the founders of the “Hippos Unlimited” 501(c)3 non-profit organization (now disbanded), whose primary purpose was “to advertise and promote the Hutto community in a positive manner through the use of its primary identifier, the hippopotamus.”
Here are just a few of the many accomplishments of Hippos Unlimited:
Promoted hippos everywhere in the community;
Brought in over a thousand concrete hippos, of various sizes, which are now sold by the Hutto Chamber of Commerce and seen throughout the community;
Donated 16 large concrete hippos to the Hutto Independent School District, and 10 large concrete hippos to the City of Hutto;
Co-sponsored (along with “Everything Hippo,” a brick and mortar hippo store) a 2008 Hippo Calendar, the proceeds of which benefited the Hutto Independent School District’s band program;
Acquired the hippomobile, “Harmony,” which was used in parades, and area and community events.
“Harmony” has since been repainted, renamed “Hermes” after an ancient Greek deity (who is also considered a protector of travelers), and is privately owned locally.
As Mr. Fowler says, “Just looking around our community today, it is really hard not to smile at our many unique hippos and the great pride that we take in them.”
It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything for this blog.
The past two-plus years have been filled with changes, the most significant – for me – being my recent move from California to Texas!
I am currently located 27 miles northeast of Austin, in the city of Hutto (population 30,000). I live with my youngest son and his fiancée, and my two granddogs, Kilo and Harley.
Texas is a BIG state, and there are plenty of places to explore. After living in the Sacramento area for 30-plus years, I look forward to all the new experiences – and photographic opportunities – that are coming my way.
I hope y’all will enjoy exploring along with me. And if any Texians have suggestions for “must visit” places nearby, please drop a note in the comments below!
After refreshing sleep and breakfast, on our second day we set out to explore Rome. And what could be more “Roman” that a visit to the Colosseum?
According to travel guide Let’s Go Italy (2009 edition):
“The Colosseum – a hollowed-out ghost of Travertine marble that once held more than 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators and now dwarfs every other ruin in Rome – stands as an enduring symbol of the Eternal City.”
From my travel journal:
“. . . we get our first view of the ruins of the Forum, and make our way to the Colosseum. Centurions approach us for photo opportunities, and we finally succumb. (Jen is moderately amused by their attention.)”
“Then we join an English-speaking Italian and his tour through the Colosseum. Although he is not a great tour guide, it was an interesting and informative entrance / visit to the Colosseum. “
“We are told that the centurions – approximately 55,000 in number – were generally slaves, aged 19-24, who chose to be centurions so they could earn their freedom.”
“Some criteria: They must be larger than the average Roman (who were slight and short, approximately 5 feet tall) and they had to successfully fight 7 times to earn their freedom. (“Unsuccessful” equals death.)”
Other interesting notes:
There were approximately 775,000 – 800,000 people killed in the Colosseum.
Because it’s a very hot structure, it was covered with a large white linen to keep it cool, and the linen was removed by sailors when it was time for the games / fights.
People would bring their children to see the events (it must have been very gory).
The wealthy people would attend the first event, then take their chariots home for a few hours before returning for the afternoon event.
Neglect, Ruin, and Rebuilding
By the 6th century A.D. not only had public taste in entertainment changed, but the structural integrity of the Colosseum had been damaged by earthquakes and other natural phenomenon.
For the next few centuries, it was abandoned and used as a quarry for other buildings including the cathedral of St. Peter, the nearby Palazzo Venezia (also known as the “Wedding Cake”) and for defense fortifications along the Tiber River. (See History.com article.)
By the 20th century, nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum, including all of the arena’s marble seats and its decorative elements, had been destroyed by weather and natural disasters, as well as neglect and vandalism.
And in 2018 (according to Wikipedia) the Colosseum was the most popular tourist attraction in the world with 7.4 million visitors.
Reader discretion advised.
The Colosseum was a place of blood sport. The following information (from travel guide Let’s Go Italy – 2009 edition) may be considered graphic.
“Within 100 days of the Colosseum’s AD 80 opening, some 5000 wild beasts perished in its bloody arena, and the slaughter continued for three more centuries.
“The labyrinth of cells, ramps and elevators used to transport exotic animals from cages to arena level was once covered by a wooden floor and layers of sand. Upon release, the beasts would suddenly emerge into the arena, surprising spectators and hunters alike.
“Animals weren’t the only beings killed for sport; men were also pitted against men. Though these gladiators were often slaves and prisoners, if they won their fights, they were idolized like modern athletes – at least until the next fight.
“Contrary to popular belief, not all gladiator matches ended in death. Some fights stopped after the first knockdown, or the loser could ask the emperor – who would defer to the crowd – for mercy.”