Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Nomadic Life: Our Journey to the American SouthWest

We still get restless. AdventureMan still gets calls asking him to come check something out, even goes back to Doha now and then, and I visit family. But we get so restless. We need the stimulation and challenge of other ways of seeing things, other ways of thinking, new sights, new smells, new adventures. There are so many places I have never seen!

Some people are just wired that way. I can remember, even as a young girl, being at the Juneau Airport, smelling that aviation fuel smell, and wishing I were going somewhere. It’s just the way I’m wired. I still love the smell of aviation fuel.

I am so lucky to be married to a man who indulges me. AdventureMan isn’t wired precisely the same; he is better at growing roots than I am, but he still likes to shake things up a little when it’s all same same same, day after day.

We’ve both had to adjust. I grew up in a family where when we were going, say from Germany to Italy for a vacation, we got up early and went, as AdventureMan so colorfully puts it, “balls to the walls” driving 12, 13 hours until we dropped from exhaustion. We were just intent on getting there. AdventureMan’s family traveled in shorter segments. It’s taken us about 40 years to find a happy medium. He has adjusted to sharing the driving with me. I’m a good driver, and I love driving. He goes to sleep, and I can drive for hours, it’s sort of a zen thing.

So off we went. We put over 6,500 on my two year old car, more than doubling the total mileage. It was a wondrous and joyful journey, full of surprises, full of delights, and with a couple days of truly awful driving.

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We packed too much. When you are going someplace every couple days, you really don’t need a lot of clothing. I worked out of a large duffel; I would put what I needed for the next day or couple of days in a smaller bag to carry into the hotels.

At our church, we collect toiletries for the homeless population in Pensacola and the recovery population. I came back with a lot of toiletries 🙂

Our first day was to Beaumont, TX. No particular reason to stop in Beaumont, it was just a good place to stop en route to where we were going, which was The National Butterfly Center and the National Birding Center, both of which happen to be in Mission, TX. Mission is right on the border, on the Rio Grande, and I have never seen the Rio Grande before and wanted to see it.

When lunchtime came, we were just passing Baton Rouge, where one of our very favorite restaurants, Al Basha, serves mouthwatering Arabic food. It’s just off I-10, we can see it from the road and what a great way to start our journey. But as we enter, every table is filled!

No worries, the waiter hurries over and leads us to a table way in the back, against the wall, which happens to be my favorite place. They have stuffed vegetables on the menu, which AdventureMan orders in a heartbeat, and of course, too much food comes.

We first became acquainted with stuffed vegetables long ago, living in Amman, Jordan, where it was a very common dish, served to family and to guests alike. Later, living in Kuwait, my friends knew how much AdventureMan loved stuffed vegetables and would make extra for him when they were preparing food for family or gatherings. What great memories this lunch brought back!

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Louisiana is a quirky state, a state we like a lot. At a gas station near Lafayette, we saw three restaurants and an antique shop, including one with Lebanese food.

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By the time we got to Beaumont, it was nearly dinner time. Beaumont is an oil refining town, and the hotel was full of men working in the refineries or about to be hired to work in the refineries. It was a very male populated environment. I went to the pool, but there was a large group of men sitting out on the patio by the pool, and I didn’t stay long, I wasn’t comfortable. It reminded me of the Middle East. I don’t like being oogled.

We were still so full from our Al Basha lunch that we found a local supermarket and got salads for dinner. It was a great first day on the road.

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Cultural, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Coffee Call in Baton Rouge

We are going to grab a bite of breakfast before we check out of our Baton Rouge hotel, when we catch sight of the line, the very very long line, and people are carrying plates of rolls and cups of coffee back to their room; there is no place to sit and eat because the conference room is all set up for the final meeting of the conference.

LOL, no, we are not going to stand in line for breakfast. I know just the place to go; I found it earlier on TripAdvisor, but with breakfast included in our room, I hadn’t a hope of getting there. But it is nearby, and just what we need! We check out, and head for Coffee Call.

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The minute we walk in, we love this place. There are businessmen reading the paper, sipping their coffees, there are families with children who have put several tables together, there are all kinds of people just kicking back and enjoying this place.

We figure out that we have to go up to the front to order our coffee, tea and beignets 🙂 but because we are about to hit the road, we also order sausage biscuits for a little protein.

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The beignets are loaded with powder sugar. As we get ready to go, I go into the ladies room to wash hands and find another grandmother, trying to get powdered sugar off her two grandchildren, LOL.

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The Coffee Call gave our day a great start and sent us on our way with smiles on our faces 🙂

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Hotels, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , | Leave a comment

Jubans in Baton Rouge

So we’ve just had this strangeness with my new reinstated-credit card and my driver’s license, and AdventureMan is HUNGRY, and some very kind and helpful Baton Rouge friends have told us we have to try Juban’s for dinner, which sounds like exactly the place we would love our last night in Baton Rouge. Oddly, it is located in a non-descript strip mall, and the parking lot is so full we have to circle a couple times to find a spot.

When we find Juban’s, we are enchanged. It breathes elegance and atmosphere.

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You evidently can dine outside, but no-one was dining outside.

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There were a couple groups and a couple in front of us walking in; there were four large groups in various rooms (you can see this is where you schedule engagement parties, good-bye parties, getting-together with old friends parties, etc. This place is geared towards special times.) The groups were whisked away somewhere, and the couple in front of us was seated, and we were seated, almost immediately. We breathed a sigh of relief; we had no reservations, but we had a lovely table.

All around us were people gathered to have a good time. My favorite tables had children at them, and several generations, and the little girls all had dresses on and bows in their hairs, and the men were in coats and ties, and the groomed women wore nice dresses and pearls. At other tables, people were having business dinners, all dressed in coats and ties or nice business attire, the lighting was dim-but-good-enough-to-read-a-menu-by . . . . if we had a menu. We had no menus, and we didn’t seem to have a waiter.

We had plenty of time to observe.

After a good ten minutes, a waiter appeared and brought us two glasses of very very good wine . . . but no menus. He seemed annoyed when I asked for the menu; he was probably annoyed at the hostess, or something, I don’t know, but while he told us we had “the best waiter in the house” waiting on us, he never made us feel welcome in any way. He was entirely correct, in a very rushed, perfunctory kind of way.

We ordered. Food arrived fairly quickly. Our waiter never stopped by to ask how it was, or if we wanted more wine, or anything. It seemed to be an exceptionally busy evening; I didn’t see any of the waiters smiling or chatting cozily with any of the clients, so I wonder if it is part of the training that the waiters be rushed and perfunctory?

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AdventureMan was the winner, with his Seafood Pasta. The sauce was intense, and truly wonderful, a sauce I would love to be able to make.

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I had a perfectly nice salad and non-fried seafood, the Salad Napoleon. The salad part had taste; the seafood, not so much
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I did order coffee, while AdventureMan finished up his exquisite Seafood Pasta. Normally, on a night like this, in a lovely restaurant, we might also have dessert, but we were so nonplussed at our non-welcome that we decided to pay the bill and leave.

I would go back, one time. I would give them the benefit of the doubt; it might have been just a very very unexpectedly busy evening and they found themselves short-staffed. I would give them another try, but I just have the feeling that maybe stuffy, rushed service is the norm rather than the exception. Pity, that, because the venue itself is wonderful.

And it was just another little strangeness . . . .

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , | Leave a comment

Baton Rouge Strangeness

Baton Rouge was a city we really wanted to like, and there are so many things about Baton Rouge we DO like. While we were there, however, every single day, we experienced a little bit of bad JuJu, a little bit of strangeness. By the grace of God, it was ameliorated by the goodness and kindness of others, but it was just strange.

First, I have to tell you I am not a huge fan of shopping, but every now and then when I find the right thing, I know it and I buy it. When I found Trader Joe’s, I knew just what to buy, quality products we love. Then, I headed out to Macy’s, a store we do not have in Pensacola.

The Mall is huge, but it was early in the morning, I got a great parking spot, and although I had ended up far from Macy’s, I enjoyed the stroll. This is the first thing I saw, and it delighted my heart.

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What is not to love about this menagerie of zoo animals for little children to ride through the mall? Children HATE mall shopping, but this is a game changer 🙂

I actually didn’t find anything I loved at Macy’s, but I did find two very classic T-shirts I knew I could use, nicely made, so I went to buy them and the cashier asked if I wanted to use my Macy’s card. I said “sure” but it turns out because I hadn’t used it in a while, I had to re-instate it, and when you do that, you get 20% off all day and the next day, plus a WOW card that gives you more discounts, plus another 20% off when they bill you. Holy mole, sign me up! But even though I looked, I really didn’t see anything else I wanted.

Back at the hotel, I told AdventureMan about this hot deal and talked him into going back to Macy’s with me. He looked, but he also didn’t find anything he liked, and then I found the children’s section, ummmm, errrrr . . . .. grandchildren’s section, and there were all kinds of things I liked a lot, and Christmas is coming, so lets get a little dollar-cost-averaging going. (AdvntureMan is rolling his eyes.)

When I went to pay, the patient salesgirl rang everything up, and then had to call some number because my total was high, and then asked me to show my driver’s license. I knew I had it, because I had it earlier when I re-instated my card. So I dug. It wasn’t there. I dug some more, I looked and looked, but no card. I was so embarrassed. The patient clerk held all the grandchildren clothes while I went downstairs where I had shown my card earlier, and sure enough, there it was. Thank God! What if we hadn’t gone back to the Mall? Months go by where I never show that card, and months from now I wouldn’t have known where to find it. I felt like my guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder. And it still felt like strangeness.

When I went back upstairs to the cashier, I showed the drivers license, and she called the security number again, and he asked me all kinds of questions, places I lived years ago, what cars are associated with my accounts, it was totally strange, and AdventureMan is looking bullish, steam coming out of his nostrils, stamping and huffing and puffing (he is hungry). Finally, he tells the cashier I am OK, and she rings me up, very apologetic. I told her it is just the times we live in, and honestly, I want security to be tough on people who might pretend to be me, so it was just a minor inconvenience. But just another little piece of Baton Rouge strangeness, little things that could eat away at happiness and well being if you let them . . . .

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Customer Service, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Scams, Shopping, Technical Issue, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge

I grew up in a family that loves Trader Joe’s. We spent so many years living in Germany, and I believe Trader Joe’s is owned and operated by Aldi’s, a large German chain. Trader Joe’s often has things no one else has, at reasonable prices. They encourage their customers to bring their own bags, and they print up a lot of very colorful and attractive Trader Joe’s bags to encourage them further.

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This Trader Joe’s is in a really cool shopping area, which some long-time Baton Rouge people laughed when they told me it used to be an ugly WalMart. It is fresh, and full of really cool shops, unique furniture, a vintage clothing shop, a Baton Rouge favorite restaurant.

But this Trader Joe’s blew me away. I am used to little Trader Joe’s, no where near the size of a full service grocery store. Most Trader Joes are sort of like the size of a convenience market. This Trader Joe’s is HUGE, and was bustling with customers. I just wish Trader Joe’s would come to Pensacola.

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October 23, 2014 Posted by | ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Shopping, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Louisiana

🙂

Welcome, indeed! First time we have see gas under $3/gallon in a long time.

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October 23, 2014 Posted by | Financial Issues, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Ninfa-mania in Baton Rouge

Ninfa’s is separate from the Crown Plaza in Baton Rouge, but plopped smack dab in the parking lot, and, as you read in the previous entry, right under our window, well, sort of.

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When we had no room waiting, we knew we would feel better if we ate lunch. Mexican is always good with us, and the smells emanating from Ninfa’s were mouth-watering.

It’s about noon, and we walk in the door. There’s a gal at the bar, filling small containers of salsas, but no one at reception, and the gal filling salsas doesn’t even look up. No welcome, no explanation . . . . and it goes on and on. There is no one seating customers, who are lining up behind us and asking us what’s going on and WE DON’T KNOW! Finally, one rushed waiter told us that they were all busy cleaning tables and someone would seat us in a minute.

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This was just another chapter on a day every monkey gets his roll in the barrel, and today, we is that monkey.

Soon after, a table was ready and we were seated. From there on, we have no complaints. Our waiter was supurb. He told us we was a former Spanish teacher – I wonder if you make better money waiting tables? I had a couple tacos, and the meat was wonderfully flavored, but . . . very gristly and chewy.

There were two very cool things. One is that when they brought the thin, crispy, fresh cooked chips, they brought three different salsas, a cucumber-y avocado green one, a mild red salsa and a jalapeno one – all good. The second very cool thing was that the tortillas were hand made by the lady you will see pictured below, who was delighted to have her photo taken and grinned from ear to ear.

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So an unhappy as we were to learn that there was going to be a rock concert right underneath our window, we rolled with it. When you’re the monkey in the barrel, just roll.

The music was actually pretty good, although holy smokes, it was loud. And it ended right at ten, so we really didn’t lose any sleep.

Ninfa’s appears very popular. I thought the lunch specials were priced a little high, but hey, this is the big city, compared to Pensacola, and it was packed, so they evidently know what the public is willing to pay. The rice is still in the shape of the scoop that scoops it, and the beans were glue-y. I wish they’d pay a little more for their steak, but their marinade is a wow.

October 23, 2014 Posted by | Customer Service, Eating Out, Restaurant, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Every Monkey Gets His Turn in the Barrel

Sometimes there is no one to blame, not even a way to blame yourself and things just go off track. We had such an experience coming to Baton Rouge, a sweet drive on a beautiful day.

We had called the day before to tell them we would not be arriving that day, but we had already paid for the room and we asked them to hold it, that we would arrive the next day. After five hours on the road, we were eager for a chance to settle in and relax before AdventureMan headed off to his afternoon sessions.

The room wasn’t ready. The room we had paid for, and expected to be held, was not held. We were on the “wait list”, the snippy, disrespectful girl at the executive desk told AdventureMan as I circled the crowded parking lot, desperately seeking a spot. I curse you, big ass trucks who park over the line! I curse you, arrogant drivers who take two spaces when you park!

AdventureMan calls me; you do not want a call from AdventureMan when things haven’t gone his way and he cannot make his will dominate the situation. We decide the best strategy is to go to lunch.

(see entry for Ninfa’s Mexican restaurant)

After lunch, we try again, softly talking with the desk clerk, Scott, who is helpful. He takes pity on us, and finds us a room which is ready, and accommodates us. He soothes us. AdventureMan heads off for his garden talk and I head off on a reconnaissance mission – I have seen there is a huge mall nearby with a Macy’s. I find it, and some other wonderful places for the next day’s adventures, and then, on my way home, I get another call from AdventureMan.

He is fuming. I hadn’t answered his call because I was driving, no matter, he kept calling and texting “call me!” until I could find a red light and call him.

He heard loud chords of a band starting up. Very loud. He went to the band and casually asked them how long they would be playing, and was told from six to ten. He went to the desk and asked for a room change, and was told the hotel was full. (He also mentioned that he was SO glad to have been helped earlier, as there was a huge line waiting for rooms at 4.)

“We need to change hotels!” he started and told me the whole story.

“I’m almost there!” I responded, but it took me another ten minutes to find a parking place.

By the time I got to the room, he had calmed down – a little – and had found a wonderful place to go for dinner. We heard a few chords – actually not bad – and headed out for a wonderful dinner at Al Basha’s, and it was a total mood changer 🙂

When we got back, the band was blasting, and we are one of the nearest rooms to the band, and the hotel is full of people around our age, but the truth is, the band was pretty good, and we had some shows we like on cable, and they really did quit at ten, well before we turned out the lights.

When things go not-quite-right – and that happens to everyone – I just sigh and say “every monkey gets his turn in the barrel;” I guess it’s sort of karmic, but bad things happen, they happen to everyone. This was not earth-shaking bad, just annoying, not going smoothly bad. We will never stay in this hotel again, even if the conference is held here again; there are lovely hotels nearby in Baton Rouge.

October 23, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Customer Service, Gardens, Road Trips, Travel | , , | 6 Comments