Weathering the unexpected on a three-week cruise!

jel_1523r_01Being flexible and packing lots of patience is the key!

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Storm closes the Houston Ship Channel

Storm closes the Houston Ship Channel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our three-week 50th anniversary celebration cruise would take us to Fort Lauderdale FL, West End Bermuda, Liverpool England, Holyhead Wales, Hamburg Germany, Le Havre/Paris and ending in South Hampton/London.

Elated and excited, our hopes and expectations are very high, as we maneuver through embarkation on the Caribbean Princess on April 17, 2016. Coincidentally, the Caribbean Princess is also celebrating its 50th anniversary!

It was 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Our good friend Tom dropped us off at the Bayport Cruise Terminal, since paying to park for three weeks was not an option for us. We checked our bags; checked in with passports; got our Cruise Cards, and boarded the ship.

As usual, they require that you stop for your first onboard photo, before you take off on your own to discover the ship. We had three weeks ahead of us on this gorgeous vessel, where we planned to relax, be entertained and served gourmet meals every day. We also knew that we had several excursions already booked (online) and we were very excited for each one!

Little did we know that our ship would not set sail until more than 24 hours later! More about that saga in due time…

Our bags arrived in our balcony cabin in no time at all. A Happy Anniversary poster on our door, along with balloons, greeted our arrival! “Princess Patter, your daily guide to life at sea” awaited us as well. In this newspaper, you can find any and all information you need for each hour of the day or night. Such as how to dress, where to eat, movies and times, stage shows, how to connect to the ships Wi-Fi, the names of your captain and other VIP crew members. This wealth of information made life onboard a little easier.

We decided to get lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet before doing our self-guided tour of the ship. One thing we found out quickly is that it’s a huge ship! It’s sad to think that this would be the very last time the Caribbean Princess would depart from the Bayport Cruise Terminal, as the terminal is set to close in the very near future. It seems that the Houston Ship Channel is extremely busy, and the possibility of problems arising any minute that would interfere with cruise ships’ schedules is enough to deter them.

After lunch we started our tour and discovered that on deck 15 Midship, Movies under the Stars was showing a Billy Joel concert, followed by a Bon Jovi Concert and an Elton Jon Concert. The cruise staff was preparing for the bon voyage party. 

Our departure time from port was scheduled for 4 p.m. The entire east Texas coast and vicinity was under a severe weather watch and we learned from Captain Bommarco that 65 passengers had missed their flights from Dallas, and we would wait until 8 p.m. for them to arrive and board. (Later, he adjusted that timeline to 1 a.m. due to the weather, high winds and rough seas.)

At 5:15 p.m. that day, which is our scheduled dinner time, we met up with our friends Don and Margie and two other dining couples who would be regulars at our table each evening in the Coral Dining Room. Surprise! We enjoyed a wonderful anniversary celebration surprise – cake, song and a glass of wine! The wait staff at our table was always attentive and friendly, making us feel very special.

My husband bought a Wi-Fi package. Yay!

Since the weather was bad, we decided to watch a movie in our cabin and await our 1:00 a.m. departure time, according to the captain. The waves lulled me to sleep that night.

We couldn’t believe we were still docked at the Bayport Cruise Terminal when we awoke the next morning. The delay was due to tremendous storms over the entire Houston/Galveston area, with high winds, flooding and tornado warnings, forcing the ship channel to close. Thankfully, we were safe onboard our ship at port during the tremendous storms.

Finally, about 2:30 on Monday afternoon, April 18, the Houston Port Authority reopened the ship channel, and we’re finally on our way across the Gulf of Mexico toward our first port, Fort Lauderdale. Now we understand why the cruise lines are not happy with the Houston Ship Channel.

The Amazing Spiderman movie was scheduled for the outside Movie under the Stars that afternoon, but I’m pretty sure that the weather prevented folks from enjoying it. There are plenty of other things to do inside where it’s dry. With so many activities going on at any given hour, there’s something for everyone!

After breakfast at the buffet, we explored the ship further, had lunch, explored some more, then dinner and the day was almost gone. After dinner we made our first visit to the Grand Casino, which could not open until the ship was in international waters. In fact, none of the onboard shops could open until then either! The Gulf of Mexico is very rough now and the ship has picked up speed, causing it to rock and roll along.

My husband bought a coffee card! Yay!

We are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, so you won’t find us going to the clubs and bars at night often. There are usually very good movies showing on the ship or on TV in our room, and we generally chose this option, after going to catch a stage show in the Princess Theater. The point is that you make your own schedule at your own pace. That’s the best thing about cruises!

By Tuesday morning we had sailed out of the storm, and we awoke to a beautiful sunrise! Pink skies and calmer waters! This day would be laid back, enjoying the meals, the entertainment and the casino.

That night we cozied up for Theater under the Stars and watched the movie “Concussion.” We decided to skip our dinner group and opted for burgers and fries with beer, while watching the movie. It’s a great way to spend the evening, watching the sunset and the first star of the night. I made a wish, of course!

Due to the nearly 24-hour departure delay out of the Houston Ship Channel, our schedule was really off. We arrived in Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday in the afternoon, not that morning as was previously planned. All shore excursions had been cancelled and could not be rescheduled, however, refunds were issued. Therefore, we did not go ashore at Port Everglades, but we did get a good look at the port area and surroundings from deck. There were lots of yachts and sailing vessels of all sizes and enormous, elaborate homes by the water. Our plans to tour South Beach, Miami, would have to wait until another time.

Fort Lauderdale is known as the Yachting Capital of the World. The fort was constructed in 1838 and the city was incorporated in 1911. There was a population of more than 165,000 in 2010. The area has been occupied by natives as far back as 4,000 years! It’s famous for its weather, beaches (7 miles), the Everglades, the inter-coastal waterway and cuisine, and it’s located only 20 miles from Miami’s South Beach.

We had made dinner reservations in the Crown Grill for Wednesday evening, where we met up with Don and Margie. The filet mignon was perfect! Sometime during the morning hours, after 2:00 a.m., we left Fort Lauderdale, Port Everglades, and headed for West End (Bermuda).

I’ll pick up my story here in my next blog, as I write about our adventures from port to port in the spring of 2016 during a three-week 50th anniversary cruise. Until then…

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Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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Movies under the Stars

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Finding the birthplace of Texas

Exploring the wonders of Washington County

Last fall I found myself on a media tour of Washington County Texas with more than a dozen other travel writers. I’m a resident of the Houston suburbs, so I was not unfamiliar with certain parts of our tour. But it was thrilling to get the perspective of a tourist. My discoveries were amazing,  and I want to share them with all my readers: Finding the Birthplace of Texas; Exploring the wonders of Washington County.

While many in our tour group stayed at peaceful bed and breakfast properties or on a working cattle ranch, I found myself in downtown Brenham enjoying a luxurious Victorian room in a historic 1800’s renovated grain building at the Ant Street Inn, a boutique hotel. This was amazing for me, as each room presents with authentic Victorian furnishings, which I love! You can feel the history there.

I’m so excited about the newly renovated Simon Theater, and the Antique Rose Emporium was blissfully delightful. Most of our group took a turn at sitting behind the president’s desk in the mock setting of the Oval Office at the George Bush Presidential Library.

There are so many places that exude Texas history, such as the Barrington Living History Farm, the Cotton Gin Museum and Independence Hall at Washington-on-the-Brazos, the actual birthplace of Texas.

March is usually the time the year that almost everyone I know in the Houston area goes to Washington County to photograph their kids, wives, husbands, pets and grandkids among the Texas bluebonnets and Indian paint brushes, especially near Brenham and Chappell Hill.

Don’t miss a tour of the wineries in Washington County…it’s worth your time: Star of Texas Winery, Saddlehorn Winery, Windy Winery and Pleasant Hill Winery. I hope you get an opportunity to stay at Ant Street Inn, Lillian Farms Country Estate B&B, Southern Rose B&B or Texas Ranch Life working cattle ranch. Some of the places we ate included Must Be Heaven Café, Funky Art Café, Nathan’s BBQ, Ninety Six West and Brenham Grill next to Ant Street Inn.

I’ll be back soon with another travel adventure. Right now, I’m packing for our next cruise, TBA at a future date. Until then, happy spring!

Enjoy a glimpse of Washington County and enjoy my travel story in The Tribune at http://www.ourtribune.com/article.php?id=19926

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the walking tour of Historic Downtown Georgetown

IMG_9087My last post was about Round Rock, Texas, and the Round Rock Donuts.

Moving on we took a little tour of Georgetown, where I found some treasures at one of the local antique shops.

Georgetown is located just north of Austin off of IH-35, and it has the distinction of having been voted the “Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas” in 1997. However, they claim that this title in no way indicates that the town is a bunch of squares – on the contrary!

Foodies and shopaholics will love Georgetown! Antique shops and boutiques, with an abundance of places to eat, will fill up your day, your weekend or your week.

It’s a beautiful town, with Victorian architecture and local watering holes nearby – Lake Georgetown, Blue Hole or San Gabriel River, where fun in and around the water is always waiting.

Founded in 1848, by 1880 the town boasted a courthouse, the state’s oldest university and the railroad.  Things were good, although in the beginning this frontier town looked quite ordinary with mainly log cabins and shacks.

Georgetown’s Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the historic Williamson County Courthouse, a Neoclassical structure, is a focal point that is being restored to its former days of glory. Victorian commercial architecture fills the streets and is now protected by the national register and the Georgetown Heritage Society. You will find scattered throughout Georgetown many displays of art, especially in downtown square and Southwestern University.

Georgetown has had much success rejuvenating its downtown area due to the city’s participation in the National Main Street Project. This program is piloted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and helps to bring about economic, as well as, architectural vitality in towns across America.

With so much to see, it’s a joy to take the walking tour of Historic Downtown Georgetown. They like to say that Georgetown is the hill country’s most beautiful little secret. And I agree!

See you next time, when I venture out to tour and enjoy more of what Texas has to offer. It’s a big state, you know! Adios!

Trilla

February 20, 2016

New photos added to our walking tour of historic downtown Georgetown, Texas.

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Hit the jackpot!

View from the boardwalk

View from the boardwalk

We didn’t exactly hit the jackpot playing slots, but I think we came pretty close finding this new jewel in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino Resort is conveniently located only two and a half hours from Houston, and makes a superb mini-vacation spot for all of us in east Texas.

We ventured here on invitation to join friends who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to share their excitement with us.

View of the grounds

View of the grounds

We were not disappointed! From the front entry with free valet parking to the beautifully appointed guest rooms overlooking the pool and lazy river, with the lake beyond, we were very impressed by the overall atmosphere. Our view was spectacular from the 19th floor, which offered a balcony for further viewing enjoyment.

View of the beach

View of the beach

With so many restaurant choices for dinner, we ended up at our familiar Saltgrass Steakhouse. Other choices were Landry’s Seafood House, Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, Lillie’s Asian Cuisine, Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar, Grotto Italian Restaurant or the Blue Martini overlooking the lake. And let’s not forget about the The Buffett, which every casino goer loves.

We visited Claim Jumper for breakfast, which is located near the elevators and nearby Starbucks, where we enjoyed a casual meal and conversation with our friends.

Cadillac Bar beachside

Cadillac Bar beachside

For sunning and swimming, the pool and lazy river looked enticing and so inviting, offering cabanas and daybeds. We found a beach with volleyball area and a boardwalk by the marina. Coming soon, visitors can book a tee time for golfing.

Room with a view

Room with a view

There are eight or more shops on the premises, meeting and planning rooms, a barber shop, spa and salon for ultimate relaxation and destressing.  The full service spa salon and boutique features treatments and popular products, sauna, whirlpool and steam room.

Shows and entertainment are presented in the Grand Ballroom and the H2O Pool and Bar. Speaking of bars, we found Cadillac Tequila Bar, Blue Martini, Rush lounge and Party Pit, Ice Bar and Bar 46, and there could be more! Oh, and the casino is huge, with every slot and table game imaginable.

RV parking is available, and interested parties are provided contact information for bus tours on line at http://www.goldennugget.com/lakecharles/, where rates and accommodations can also be found.

All in all, the Golden Nugget Casino Resort on Lake Charles is my number one resort choice within easy driving distance to Houston. Tilman Fertitta, the owner who calls himself the world’s richest restauranteur, has created an easily accessible mecca for vacationers who want restaurant choices, sunning, water and golfing activities, gambling and entertainment all in one neat package. Can’t wait to visit again soon!

Golden Nugget

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Namaste! Welcome to a new adventure of The Three Foodies

Once again The Three foodies are on the go! We had been looking forward to this outing for a long time, it seemed. Shalni, Arceli and I are ready for lunch and shopping — what else is new?

Premium Veg. Thali

Premium Veg. Thali

Our quest was to find more of the best Indian food in Houston, and we did!

Shalni led this expedition to the Mahatma Gandhi District in Houston, where we found the Maharaja Bhog Premium Veg. Thali Restaurant on Hillcroft.

A wall of spices greeted us at Maharaja Bhog, and the atmosphereMaharaja Bhog 8

Indian food at its finest!

Indian food at its finest!

was definitely Indian. Friendly service and colorful, flavorful food was the icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, we toasted Arceli’s birthday with the special Indian sponge cake, Rasmalai. Proprietor Bhagwan Taparia was interested to know how we liked everything, and explained which sauces to eat with which dishes. He also told us that the silver on the cake was truly edible!The premium veg Tali is an unlimited Thali and the menu can be found on their website at http://www.maharajabhog.com.

This was an authentic Indian food experience, from top to bottom. And the food kept coming, as long as we wanted!Maharaja Bhog 1

Maharaja Bhog is located at 8338 Southwest Freeway, Houston, and three more locations in India and Dubai. This one is conveniently located not far from the shopping experience we had planned.

Maharaja Bhog 6While we enjoyed our meal, torrential rains hit the Houston streets causing temporary flooding, but we had bigger fish to fry with some shopping at Harwin and Namaste! So, braving the rain, we ventured out!

Our first stop was the Harwin Stores, and inMaharaja Bhog 3 particular the Jewelry Factory with locations on Hillcroft and Harwin. We each found silver rings and earrings with genuine semi-precious stones on sale for 50% off. Arceli found some other odds and ends for her boutique. We also shopped in the Jewelria at Harwin and other stores in the area.shopping1

Next we visited a store called Namaste at Hillcroft, where we met the owner and friend of Shalni’s, Koshik. This was an excellent shopping experience, and we liked that everything in the store is from India.shopping3

NamasteThere is no way to see everything in one day, so we will probably make a return visit to the Hillcroft/Harwin part of Houston in the near future. You can bet on it! So, see you next time The Three Foodies are making their rounds.Namaste6Namaste1Namaste7Namaste8

Come on back and leave your comments!Namaste3

You’re in Almost Heaven!

My family originates from the beautiful Appalachian mountains of southern West Virginia. We grew up in and/or near the small, quaint town of Pineville in Wyoming County. This little town has the quintessential courthouse, and boasts a well-known landmark — Castle Rock.

Courthouse and Castle Rock landmarks in Pineville, WV.

Castle Rock, a well-known landmark in Pineville, WV.

 

Pineville Courthouse

Pineville Courthouse — Wyoming County Seat. Reminds me of a scene from the movie “Back to the Future!”

During the 1950’s when I was a kid, I can remember what a special treat it was to get take-out food from the Pinnacle Drive-In, where “car hops” came to take your order and deliver it to your car window. While waiting for your order (this was not fast food), there would, undoubtedly, be other people pulling up to order. Folks talked and laughed, listened to their car radios, while waiting on their meals. It was a whole other time! Sometimes I long for those days…

As we grew up some things changed, such as new schools being built or combined, and subtle little changes in the landscape around  the small towns. But nothing drastically ever changes there. And that’s a good thing, because it makes one who has moved away feel that there is such a thing as going home again.

Submarine

This is the authentic Pinnacle Drive-In submarine sandwich that I ordered in October 2013…that was way too long ago!

The large submarine served at the Pinnacle Drive-In, Pineville, WV.

The Pinnacle Drive-In, Pineville, WV.

My husband and I made a visit to WV in October 2013, and reinforced our knowledge that one thing that has never changed is the Pinnacle Drive-In. The small parking space in front, combined with the intimate chrome tables and chairs of yesteryear inside, keep customers happy. What are they so happy about, you might ask?

For one thing, the Pinnacle serves a unique sandwich that is simply listed on the menu as a “submarine.” This sandwich is unlike any other submarine, as it is always made exactly the same way every time…no cold cuts here, nosirreee! This submarine comes large or small and consists of a fine-textured turkey salad, bacon, cranberry sauce, lettuce and tomato on a French bun that has been “crisped” in hot oil. If you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. In addition to these outrageously delicious subs, the Pinnacle serves other menu items, of course, and one of those is their famous hot dog! Served with chili and coleslaw on a bun that is butter-toasted on both sides, makes this hot dog one of the best ever, bar none!!!

This is no joke! Folks travel from far and wide to return and reclaim these delectable memories of their youth! Whether you’re a fan of the subs or the hot dogs, you’re in “Almost Heaven,” literally, when you have one in your hand and let the tastes and smells take you back to those distant memories!

Some of my family members still live in Pineville or surrounding areas, in fact, our ancestors settled in the area and built towns there, including Pineville, Oceana and Mullens. But some of us have moved away in search of better employment and opportunities for our children. A handful of us ended up in East Texas. We like to get together every once in a while to create what we consider the equivalent of Pinnacle Drive-In subs, which we call simply “West Virginia Subs.”

Some of our Texas family enjoying homemade WV subs (imitating the Pinnacle Drive-In subs) on our West Virginia Subs Day!

Some of our East Texas family enjoying homemade WV subs (imitating the Pinnacle Drive-In subs) on our West Virginia Subs Day!

One such get-together happened last week on September 26 in Jacksonville, Texas, where ten of us gathered to re-create our long, lost Pinnacle subs – our West Virginia Subs. We’ve done this enough times now, and we know how much of each ingredient we need, so we assign a list to each person. We set up an assembly station and start the creation process, down to the last detail – wrapping the subs in wax paper, complete with the toothpick sticking through it! Oh, man, we are truly transported back to those West Virginia hills that we love so well — if only for a moment in time!

Robin

Robin gives the sign of approval!

Homemade WV subs made with loving care!

Homemade WV subs (small size) made with loving care!

Janie and Delma

Everyone helped, except the guys, and they just reaped the rewards!

Sonja

Sonja started preparations the day before!

Trilla and Delma

Three dozen small size subs were prepared and almost all were eaten at once!

If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Pineville, West Virginia, do yourself a favor and pull up to the Pinnacle Drive-In and place your order – submarine or hot dog! You won’t be disappointed!

You’ll find this little eatery on Rt. 16 and Pinnacle Avenue in Pineville, WV, phone 304-732-7785. If you’re looking for an awesome, picturesque setting for a nearby vacation get-away, try Twin Falls Lodge, which is located in Twin Falls State Park just up the road.

Twin Falls

Until next time, this is yours truly, with all my memories old and new of the Pinnacle Drive-In subs…priceless!

 

Antiquing in Livingston with the Three Foodies

Fun Americana Day!

The Three Foodies take in the Courthouse Whistle Stop

The Three Foodies take in the Courthouse Whistle Stop

Three friends, each from different countries and culture, yet we came together in friendship to share our love of food, life and the good ol’ USA.

After our previous daytrip outings to sample Indian cuisine at Bombay Sizzler in Spring, Texas, and Filipino food from Sarap Pinoy Restaurant in Humble, Texas, the Three Foodies were up for some local East Texas fare. We may be in what people consider the southwest, but there’s plenty of southern cooking going on here, too!

So we set the date, and off to Livingston we went. In less than one hour we were shopping at Downtown Treasures Antiques, while waiting to have a leisurely lunch next door at the Courthouse Whistle Stop!

The Courthouse Whistle Stop is aptly named, as it sits directly across the street from the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston, and the railroad passes by the courthouse, as well. Their serving dishes are vintage plates and saucers, none of them matching, which lends to a very down-home, country feel.

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From the menu, I ordered the southern-style appetizers for our group, such as fried green tomatoes, fried okra and jalapeno poppers. For our meals, each ordered a different dish, including chicken and dressing (a casserole recipe), grilled chicken sandwich, chicken tenders and chicken Alfredo. Yes, we ate lots of chicken! But the appetizers were what set the stage! We talked about old movies, such as “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Steel Magnolias.”

The view from our table inside the Courthouse Whistle Stop

The view from our table inside the Courthouse Whistle Stop

Joining us for lunch was a good friend from Onalaska, Nita. My vehicle was full of donations that were delivered to Nita to benefit a favorite local Onalaska charity, Kids’ Free Clothing Exchange (KFCE), which serves the clothing needs of struggling families from seven surrounding counties. So, today was a good day all around!

After lunch, the Three Foodies explored enticing antique stores along Highway 59-S to look for more “treasures.” We found trinkets, gems and more at Junk in the Trunk, West Lake Antiques  and Antiques and More Consignor’s Mall. Arceli found a treasure — a sterling silver blue topaz ring, and for a very reasonable price. I had to drive back a few days later to buy the framed Egyptian papyrus that I spotted that day and should have bought, but didn’t. These things often happen when you’re antiquing or flea-market shopping. It’s all part of the adventure!

Looking for treasures at Antiques and More Consignor's Mall

Looking for treasures at Antiques and More Consignor’s Mall

On our way back, we stopped for dessert at the Happy Days Diner on S-59 at Shepherd. We were hoping for pie, but found cobbler instead! Arceli and I tried two: pecan cobbler and the blackberry one! Both were toppled with soft-serve ice cream! Shalni stuck with the ice cream.

Shalni and Arceli are happy at Happy Days Diner in Shepherd, Texas.

Shalni and Arceli are happy at Happy Days Diner in Shepherd, Texas.

 

Another full day of shopping, fun, food and friendship! Now, we’re thinking about where to go next. Shalni wants to take us for more Indian food in Houston – shopping, too, of course!

 

Can’t wait!