So, being posted overseas will make doing the random weekend college visited hard in as Mason gets further along in high school....so we are starting early. First stop, my Alma mater....University of West Florida! Go Argonauts!! I failed as a mother and didn't get any photos on our campus tour....good news though, Mason loved the school and it is in the running. Even better news, Clarissa liked it too....we might have two future argo's in the family!! We still have a couple years before any applications are due.
After our campus tour, we went out to the beach. I drove down to the space ship house and then went to show everyone the iconic white sands and emerald waters of Pensacola Beach. It didn't disappoint!
And even though we didn't bring her swimsuit, someone still jumped in the water!!
Our next day, we headed out to NAS Pensacola. The Blue Angels post their practice schedule and picked a day they were flying and we would have a chance to meet the pilots!
The kids played on some Naval equipment before heading out to the air field. It was pretty cool be right out on the tarmac. Close enough to see the planes with the landing gear still out as they had just taken off!
Because I was inverted! (what movie was that from??)
Our need for speed was full filled!! Yes - I may have watched Top Gun a time or two in college. We took these with just our 300mm lens.....it was nice being this close to the jets.....how close?
So close, that when the jet flies by......
It messes up your hair...lol!!!!
Afterwards, we headed back into the nice cool A.C. to wait for a table in the cafe for some lunch and we played on some more naval equipment.
Clarissa in a F-18...she will have to grow a little bit more to see out of the cockpit....lol.
We had intentions of climbing the Pensacola lighthouse afterwards, but we all were spent and opted to head back to take naps.
Mason flew to Texas that evening for a month with his dad/stepmom/cousins. The next day, Richard, Clarissa, and I had a fun beach day! The water had cleared up from some rain early in the week and was even more emerald colored than our first P'cola Beach visit! We played in the sun and sand all morning, then when out to lunch, and the had coolest snowballs on our way home.
Our next day, we did a short little road trip that I had done
a time or two many times in college....the short little three hour drive to New Orleans, Louisiana! Richard had never been and that was unacceptable. It was dark and stormy when we arrived, so we walked to Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. This one had special meaning...this was the first HRC I had even been to with my Bestie and a couple other friends for a spring break trip from St. Louis before I moved to P'cola. It actually threw me for a loop as they have changed physical locations...still in downtown NoLA but after 25 years HRC had moved locations back in 2013 to get a Bourbon Street address!
After some quality pool time, we called it a night. The next morning, we walked around Bourbon Street. It was sunny and the streets had just been hosed clean....everything was quite lovely!
Reminds me a bit of Charleston, with all the porches. We later found out that during Mardi Gras, people will rent out spots on the their balconies! (I guess AirBnB for parade spots?!?). Ingenious!
Love all the wrought iron!
We had a booked a kids walking tour of the French Quarter. Figured if we were going to make Clarissa walk around in the hot and humid weather, if it was kid oriented we had a half a chance of keeping her interested. The guide had a trolley full of accessories which she would pull out and show the kids things or ask them questions. She also built in stops with places for them to sit down and rest...smart thinking! We started off checking out the might Mississippi River!
Clarissa's favorite story was about the wealthy Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba. Micaela was shot multiple times in the stomach by her husband when he trying to kill her for her fortune. She was able to survive (thanks to her corset and her helpful staff), return to NoLA, and get a divorce. She then used her fortune to build two sets of apartment buildings on both sides of what is now Jackson Square.
Micaela left her mark on these apartments by putting her initials AP on the balcony of each apartment rail so everyone knew she, a woman, had built these apartments (note this was in early 1800s)!
We saw the outside and inside of the St. Louis Cathedral (aka big church in Jackson square),
admired more pretty balconies, and
marveled that the city is celebrating being 300 years old!
The line for Cafe du Monde was insane!
Clarissa Someone didn't want to wait, (we did watch them make their famous beignets in the window for a bit), so we grabbed some lunch at Pere Antoine....Richard got his first souvenir drink cup to prove it! (Lol....I will neither confirm nor deny that my college drinkware was primarily reused NoLA cups). When then walked along the Mississippi riverwalk to a pickup point for Mardi Gras World.
Figured out what Mardi Gras World is yet?!? So New Orleans is known for parades. You pick a route, hire a band (or gather your own), and file a permit with city to have a parade.....weddings, funerals, birthday, you name it......and of course Mardi Gras (french for Fat Tuesday) the nearly two week celebration of life before the start of Lent. If you look at the parade schedule as of this writing, there are already eleven parades schedule for Fat Tuesday alone....not to mention the days and weekends leading up to it! New Orleans takes their parades serious. For Mardi Gras, "Krewes" are formed to put on the parades. The oldest Krewe (Krewe of Rex) was founded in 1872 and new krewes still form all the time (back in 1994, Harry Connick Jr helped form the Krewe of Orpheus). So what do all these krewes need besides bands? They need parade floats to navigate the streets from to throw beads and other goodies from!
So where are some of theses floats made? Mardi Gras World! Roy Kern was an artist that painted signs around New Orleans during the depression. In 1932, Roy and his son Blaine built a mule-drawn Mardi Gras float. A few years later, Blaine Kern fell into the business. He too had natural artistic talent, his mother was ill, and he was painting a mural at a hospital to pay off the bill. It caught the eye of a surgeon at the hospital, who happened to be a Krewe captain. This surgeon asked Blaine to build him a float (back in 1947...and that is when the company started!). We toured one warehouse and were told that there are many more just like it - building hundreds more floats!! (If you are artsy and want to work building beautiful things....I don't know what it pays but I can see how that would be an awesome job!).
Mermaids and Eagles! Bits of movies is what I called this next display.
After the tour, the predictable summer afternoon rain shower had stopped so we headed back down to the French Quarter. We happened up on a cafe with beignets that had a semi long line (as oppose to Cafe du Monde's insanely long line), so we stopped in there.
I think the photos nicely summarize the experience for everyone! Yum! We checked out a few shops, someone had not consumed enough sugar yet and needed ice cream, we peeked in an art gallery. It was after five o'clock by now (though we had observed people drinking on the street all day (such a contrast to daily life in Doha)) and someone wanted a cute glass with a face. Richard decided to take one for the team and try the hand grenade we had seen advertised on what seemed every street corner!!
Needless to say, he didn't finish it. His palette it is a bit more mature than the average college student and he did later looked up to see if it did indeed contain the sugary lighter fluid it tasted like...lol (according to wikipedia it's gin, vodka, rum, rectified spirit, and melon liquor....but the official recipe has a patent and supposedly has 13 ingredients and like a real grenade will knock you on your butt).
So our day and half in NoLA was fun. Clarissa described New Orleans as hot, smelly, and full of a lot of drunk and homeless people. While accurate, we did try to show her some of the nicer things too. The extra three hour drive past P'cola would make it a pretty brutal drive back to Charleston, so we opted to break it up a bit on our return. So we got up the next morning and drove to Atlanta. Once we checked into our hotel, we walked over to the Centennial Olympic Park and to the World of Coke. We've visited the World of Coke before, but it was an easy thing to do on a short amount of time we had that afternoon (without adding sitting in Atlanta traffic after a long car ride).
We were quite excited to find see a oversized coke bottle decorated like the Republic of Georgia with the Caucasus Mountains on the bottle. Bonus points it was next to a New Zealand bottle (we've been there too!!). We also found Polynesian style bottle (likely Hawaiian, but we mentally said it was Fijian)....regardless...been to both and loved it!
Richard wonder what makes a Coke a Coke before seeing the 4D movie (btw, right before closing...not a lot of crowds!!).
I'm still waiting on coke for to call because I really like the pop art design of the Clarissa made!
Of course we saw the forbidden vault....it contains the secret formula! You hear the history of how the recipe was used as collateral at one point but when the business took off, the recipe was bought back. For years it was stored at a bank but now it is stored in this secure location!
After tasting the different flavors in the tasting room, we picked up a few things in the gift shop (Clarissa scored Mason's favorite birthday present and managed to keep a secret until November!! It's a good thing I'm actually behind posting...I may have spilled the beans!). Afterwards, we walked back across Centennial Olympic Park and took a ride in the ferris wheel...because why not. Clarissa looks super cute....Richard decided to not cooperate....I give up!
There weren't a lot of dining options in the area (a lot of clubs though), so we opted to introduce Clarissa to the southern staple of Waffle House! She really enjoyed the plate of bacon she got with her delicious waffle! I think she is sold on Waffle House....my job as a parent is done! When made it back to our room, the sun put on a beautiful show!
The next morning was one of the more exciting things of our trip! We discovered that scouts (Girl and Boy Scouts) can earned a lego fun badge at the Lego Discovery centers. So we had booked ourselves to do that. So Clarissa had to wear her scout uniform, we had to pick up an activity sheet of things to do, and once we knocked those out at the last step she got her badge! So that was our fun morning!
After getting arrested by the everyone's favorite Lego City character and playing a couple rounds of the laser game, we checked out the mini Brick-lanta! Richard used to live in Atlanta, so it was fun to point out the buildings that were replicas of actual Atlanta high-rises.
The B-52's are a band from Athens, Georgia...about 70 miles outside of Atlanta.....so it makes sense that the Brick-52's would be playing a concert in the little city.....cracked me up!
We also had to build and race cars. Can you guess which one Clarissa built?
Here's the race!
Here's Clarissa with her car, I built the one with the yellow bar across the back and Richard built the other one.
Clarissa and Richard tested their building skills and whether their buildings would survive earthquakes.
Good thing Richard is a computer guy and not an architect...hee hee hee. The last stop on the activity check list was attend the Master Builder Academy. Good thing we headed over a few minutes before the posted start time. As it got closer, people started gathering and they only let in about 8 kids. They only have the Master Builder Academy every two hours. So that would have been a long wait to finish the last badge step! For the academy, you do an individual build which was a race and different people had different things (which you give back when you are done) - Clarissa had a caterpillar to build.
After getting some lunch, we headed on back to Charleston. It ended up being a really fun trip. Richard had a few more days before he headed back to Doha. He commented that taking a vacation while on R&R was really enjoyable. While in Charleston, we tend to run around with doctor appointments, picking up things we want/can't order online, visit with friends and family, and take the occasional nap while getting over jet lag. While it is a break from the norm, it's doesn't always put you in the vacation mode mindset. A change in scenery and exploring new places did do the trick though!