Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Jim N Nick’s BBQ in Auburn

Sometimes, on the road, you just have to hope you’re going to be lucky. We weren’t hungry until we got near Auburn, but Auburn is a college town, and college towns, in our experience, usually have a lot of good places to eat.

Very near to the highway, we found Jim and Nick’s BBQ, which I didn’t know was a chain, but it seems to be a regional chain.

First good sign – fabulous smells as soon as we drive up. We can’t wait to get inside; it is freezing, below freezing, it is really, REALLY cold.

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The inside is warm and cozy, all woody and country and full of divine smells and we can see great food coming from the kitchen. We have a great server, who guides us through some of our choices.

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Their hot sauces are GOOD. Really good!

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We both choose Pig On a Bun. It is a pulled pork sandwich with two sides. Our server tells us to order it Memphis style, which has cole slaw on top. We do. It is fabulous.

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AdventureMan ordered his with baked beans and potato salad.

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I don’t normally stop at chains, but this one was conspicuously high quality. We’d eat there again in a heartbeat.

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , , , | Leave a comment

Alabama

Today the church prays for the Episcopal diocese of Alabama. When my far-away friends ask me where Pensacola is, I tell them we are so far west in Florida that we are next door to Alabama. It’s the truth. I can drive ten minutes and be in Alabama.

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January 21, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Geography / Maps, Pensacola | | Leave a comment

Mobile Museum of Art

We were so efficient at the Mobile Botanical Garden that we had plenty of time to hit the nearby Mobile Museum of Art. Actually, we loved the whole park area; there is the Botanical Garden, the Museum of Art, also walking paths, a huge water . . . something, it might be a river or a large lake with a dam in it, I don’t know what it is, but it is a large amount of water. There are athletic fields and even some offices, not large office buildings but some smaller outlying kinds of state or county offices. It’s a nice park, it has a nice feeling, a lot going on.

It doesn’t hurt that it is one of the prettiest days of the year, not hot, not humid, and no mosquitos!

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I love it that not all the art is inside the building. There is statuary outside, along the walking path, and this huge made-from-found-objects butterfly at the entrance. It is wonderful. As you enter the museum, looking through miles of glass out through trees at the water, you immediately think “what a place for an event!” thinking wedding, reception, small chamber group performance, etc. Truly beautiful spaces; I would show you but they have a really strict policy about photographing inside the building, so I didn’t.

They have some surprising pieces, surprisingly good for a small museum. They have some very odd pieces, par for the course in a small museum. They have an amazing art glass collection, beautifully displayed in a room with gorgeous natural light that allows each piece to shine. They had an exquisite visiting exhibit based on a Vietnamese classic, with intricate, ethereal pieces.

Too much to take in on one visit! I think our favorite piece in the exhibit were some gorgeous silvery angel wings on a wall near the gallery entrance on the top floor. When you get closer to the exhibit, you see it really, REALLY is silvery – it is silver spoons! The bowls of the spoons form the outer part of the feathers, hundreds of spoons, and the base of the spoon the lower part. It is whimsical and surprising, and made me whoop a little (trying to be respectful in a museum πŸ™‚ ) with delight. We are eager to go back and to take our little grandson, as he gains in ability to focus his attention πŸ™‚

map

Driving Directions From I-65
From I-65, take the Springhill Avenue Exit (Exit 5) and head west on Springhill Avenue. Go approximately 1 1/2 miles and turn left on John D. New Street (traffic signal). Take an immediate right onto Museum Drive. The Museum is the first building on the right.

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March 20, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Exercise, Living Conditions, Road Trips | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Gator on Dauphin Island

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“That’s my very first gator!” our friend said, watching the reptile sun himself on the side of the big pond in the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. We had taken the very short hike out to see the gators and the turtles, and any birds who might be migrating through this gorgeous February day between storms.

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(That’s not a stick; it’s a turtle head sticking out of the water πŸ™‚ )

We had a great day for a drive and a ferry boat ride. The car ferry only handles maybe thirty cars max on the trip across Pelican Bay from Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores. It cuts off a long long trip back into Mobile and around the huge Mobile Bay, and takes us along the beach back into Pensacola.

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February is a great time of the year to walk these areas and to take a day trip. We had a wonderful day, mild temperatures and calm waters – altogether a great adventure, counting in our unforgettable stop at Smokey Dembo’s Smokehouse en route along Douphin Island Parkway.

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Wildlife | , , , | 2 Comments

Smokey Dembo’s BBQ Outside Mobile, AL

We had endured water aerobics, quickly dressed and hung up our swim clothes, and driven to Mobile en route to Dauphin Island with our visiting friends from Norfolk, old travel buddies and long time friends from Germany. As we left I-10. heading south toward the Island, we are starving, and all we see are McDonalds, Arby’s, fried chicken and Asian buffets.

“No! No!” we wail, and hold out for something better.

As soon as we saw it, we all knew. This was IT:

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Look at that cow’s head! You take one look, and you know this place is going to be an original. Little did we know . . .

As we drove into the parking, we asked some people leaving how the food was. “Excellent! The best!” they said, and other people leaving chimed in saying “You won’t be sorry.”

As we walked in, we were greeted by “Smokey” Dembo himself, who said “I saw you taking photos outside, don’t you want a photo with me in it?”

Yes! Yes! I do! I do!

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Smokey, as it turns out, is our kind of guy. Former military, from this small little town outside of Mobile, his dream was to own a place just like this, with his father, who taught him how to grill. One day, shortly after he retired, he was driving his daughter to soccer practice and he saw a for sale sign on this building, and on his way back, stopped – and made a deal. That was 11 years ago, and he’s never looked back. This is a happy man, living his dream.

He spends Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday marinating and preparing his meats. He is only open Thursday, Friday, Saturday (maybe Sunday, I can’t remember. Or maybe not; Sunday may be for church. Actually, you’d better call, because I might have gotten it all wrong. I KNOW he is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and I know he serves breakfast on Thursdays and Fridays, but the rest is foggy . . . . )

The aromas of BBQ are killing us; we have to order right away:

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As we are waiting for the food, we continue to talk with Smokey and to learn about his restaurant. He has a wonderful wall, a tribute to his family and his family history:

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I apologize. We were starving. When the food arrived, we totally forgot to take any photos at all, not a single photo of the boneless BBQ pork, nor of the potato salad nor of the cole slaw, nor of the baked beans. Although we are a very talky bunch, when the food came, we ate in awed silence. It was so GOOOOOOOD.

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We cannot wait to see Smokey again. This is some fine BBQ. πŸ™‚

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , | 5 Comments

Dauphin Island and BBQ!

We got up early, remember? We worked up an appetite walking through the bird sanctuary and exploring the park and environs. One last stop to see those butterflies and we really need to get something to eat.

Fortunately, we passed just the place on the way in . . . Dauphin Island BBQ πŸ™‚

My friends, this is not a fancy place. There is no indoor seating. You order at a window, and grab your plastic utensils, and then you wait for your name to be called. You can fill little cups with condiments, including, of course, Tony Chachere’s special spices, and then you sit at a picnic table and eat out of a styrofoam container. This may not be your style. We like all kinds of styles πŸ™‚

By the time we decided, cars loaded with grandparents, children, lots and lots of children, parents, aunts and uncles, cars and trucks and big RV’s started pulling up and people crowding into Dauphin Island BBQ eager to eat. Clientele lining up:

We got there just in time. We got a good picnic table in the shade. I tried to order oysters, but since Isaac, oysters have been hard to come by. I had fried fish. It was hot and it was delicious.

AdventureMan ordered the pulled pork and said it was delicious:

Not elegant, but tasty, filling, and delicious. As you drive onto Dauphin Island, turn left and watch for this . . . umm . . .lighthouse. Dauphin Island BBQ is located just past this lighthouse-looking building.

If you want to stay on Dauphin Island, there is one Motel, several condominiums, and many rentals. One place to look for beach rentals is Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor also has a few hotel/B&B listings here, but be sure to tell TA to arrange by distance, or you may end up in Gulf Shores or Fairhope, LOL!

The one motel, Gulf Breeze Motel, is nothing fancy, but it is the best there is. Reviewers on Trip Advisor say ‘it’s not the Ritz’ but the prices are reasonable, and people seem to like it.

September 26, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Cooking, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Hotels, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Dauphin Island: Fort Gaines

Imagine you are a retired military man who likes birds and butterflies and gardens and photography and military history . . .

Now, imagine you can find all of the above on one island. Dauphin Island is a paradise for AdventureMan.

Imagine you are a woman who loves road trips, beautiful beaches, taking pictures, taking walks, beautiful scenery, especially beaches and wading birds . . .

And that is also all on the same island.

We can’t wait to go back to Dauphin Island. Birding season is just kicking up again, after the heat of the summer and the threat of hurricane season. The birds migrating south have their final rest on Dauphin Island, before heading out across the big Gulf of Mexico to warmer climates for the winter.

And there’s an old fort, too!

These forts were built to protect the American southern coast from a variety of enemies, including at one time, our fellow Americans. They are built solidly, with great big cannons.

So what is the fort defending against now?

There is another way to get to Dauphin Island from Pensacola, if you get there at the right time and there isn’t much of a line, because this little ferry can’t take a lot of cars. It goes to Fort Morgan, still in Alabama, but across Mobile Bay:

AdventureMan says the forts are built in the style influenced by Marc RenΓ©, marquis de Montalembert, who is said to want to do for defense what Vauban had done for the attack.

September 25, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Safety, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dauphin Island: Audubon Bird Sanctuary and Shell Mound

After exploring the west end of Dauphin Island, we explored further, and found what we were really looking for – the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. It was even better than we had imagined. You drive in and park, open your doors, and it smells good, like salty sea fresh air and pine trees together. They have walking trails that are beautifully done; even ramps and areas for people in wheelchairs, special areas for picnics out just a short walk.

The trails are clearly marked, and have great signage.

A very short walk takes you to a lake area, with an overlook and lots of soft shell turtles poking their heads out curiously:

At one point, AdventureMan laughed and said the long needle pine has decorated this smaller tree for Christmas:

We know we will be coming back, so we saved the longer hikes for another, cooler trip. πŸ™‚

Dauphin Islanders have put a high priority on protecting their sea and bird life. They have bought up several parcels where the wildlife is protected and free.

We found the Shell Mound park, and it is magnificent. There is a road lined with trees dripping with Spanish Moss, and there is more wild lantana than I’ve ever seen in one place before. The butterflies are crazy about lantana, especially this orangey kind, and there must have been a thousand butterflies, just in this one small area; it was like butterfly heaven. Most of the butterflies we saw were Gulf Fritillaries or Sulphers, but AdventureMan says he also spotted a BuckEye. It was magical, just watching them flit so happily from blossom to blossom.

We are already thrilled we came to Dauphin Island, but . . . there is more to come!

September 25, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Education, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hell Bent for Texas and the Country Kitchen

(This is my first blog entry done from an iPad, and I still have a lot to learn about how to make the same technologies work that seemed so easy on my computer. Bear with me!)

We could have taken more time, but we decided to make it all in one day – Pensacola to Bryan/College Station, Texas, to see old Texas friends. We made it out the door at exactly seven a.m. – a miracle, and chat chat chatted our way across the remaining few miles of Florida, flew across Alabama, zipped across Mississippi. About when we figured we were half way, and were hungry for lunch, we found ourselves back in familiar territory – the Atchafalaya Basin, Bayou Teche and serious Cajun country. And – we also needed gas, so drifting into the gas station on fumes, we breathed a sigh of relief and focused on our next project – what to eat, where to eat.

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An answered prayer – The Country Kitchen. As we drove into the parking lot, AdventureMan lowered his window and said “Can you smell that??” The smell of smoking meat pulled us happily inside, where we ordered BBQ chicken. I did something I never do – my phone rang and I had to make a quick decision on a side, and I went with cornbread dressing. What a blessing of fate, while it is something I probably should not eat much of, it was SO delicious, hot, spicy and sweet. It was hard to resist. I also had the sweet peas – they were out of green beans. AdventureMan had very much the same, except with rice.

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SO Good.

If you find yourself outside of Lafayette, LA, find this gem. The cooking is all real food, probably not the healthiest, probably they use fat in just about everything, but it is oh, so delicious.

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Now Google tells us that the quickest way to get to Bryan, TX is to get off the Interstate at Beaumont, TX, just after crossing the state line. This road is hilarious – two lanes, with speed limits of 70 on several stretches, churches along the way with names like Cowboy Church and Lonesome Dove Chapel, and a stand set up selling Mayhaw jelly.

It was a very very long drive, and, at long last, we arrived at our friends’ beautiful, serene house, spent the evening laughing and catching up, with never a silent moment, we all just had so much to say. Finally, exhausted, we fell into bed, only to rise ready for more chat the next morning. Aren’t old friends the BEST? No matter how much time has passed, you can pick right up, share your hearts and you can talk about everything.

It was a joyful breakfast, again full of tears and laughter, and then, the painful parting. We have this wonderful memory though – just as we were about to leave, we asked about those Mayhaws. what were they, and then we asked about a song AdventureMan can almost remember, “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch,” which our friend knew and sang, and as we left we were all laughing once again.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Eating Out, Friends & Friendship, Road Trips | , , , | 2 Comments