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SCAVENGER HUNT TOUR: WASHINGTON D.C. — SPECIAL PROPOSAL

July 2, 2015

Dear readers, I have a very good excuse for being M.I.A.

A fancy restaurant? An exclusive tour? A visit with distant relatives? All BF Shoes told me was to keep the Monday of our Washington D.C. trip free.

Nothing could bring me down during this vacation. So when BF Shoes presented me with the first clue for a Scavenger Hunt he created, I was already thrilled. That Monday would lead us to new places around the nation’s capital.

Awwww how freakin’ cute you may say. True, true– it melted my heart. Awww how freakin’ suspicious you might also add. No, not at all. This type of thing was just another act of love. After 2.5 years of Geocaching, hiking off-beaten paths, chasing hidden treasure, or even sending “missing you” hand drawn comics to each other I never tired of it. This was another chance to share a cool experience with my BF! Where’s my bike?

But the day went horribly wrong! It didn’t go according to MY mind’s plan. Ah haha just kidding. It went BETTER than I’d hoped. I recorded most of the time and… wait… how about I stop typing and you just watch it yourself.

Secretly I’m further enamored of BF Shoes by the WAY he proposed- very fitting of our relationship. (Bwahaha I swear if he had merely asked via pretty surroundings or during a fancy dinner I would’ve questioned why he didn’t ‘go beyond his comfort zone’ for us… ah ha you see my thoughts on those type of proposals)

I am honored, proud, thrilled; ARGH it’s very difficult to be a wanna-be writer and have words be inadequate for describing a feeling. My heart is bursting but not all its thoughts are making it to my fingers. I am ready to grow old and chase wheelchairs with this funny, talented, intelligent, and awkwardly likable guy. I can’t wait to wake up to his face, burn a dinner in the oven, or give him hair cuts… happily forever.

My nickname for him can’t be ‘BF Shoes’ anymore… what should I do?

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Dear readers– I know it seems I was just writing about New Orleans a short while ago. How did I get to Washington D.C.? This new chapter in my life has temporarily disrupted many things, but please allow me to celebrate and meditate on these awesome blessings that have suddenly taken over. I am happy to share this moment with you and please pray for my relationship as I only hope it grows stronger from here on out.

FINAL DAY IN NEW ORLEANS

June 15, 2015

Pyra-Danny has taken a solo road trip to New Orleans for a three-day weekend. She’s stopped at sites along the way and has finally made it to the Big Easy. This was her final day.

I slept in a bus. How could I not? When a renovated bus decorated in flowing colorful drapes appeared on my AirBnB results, it seemed to represent everything artsy about New Orleans that I wanted to experience. It was unique, quaint, vintage, and hipster. I can’t give more specifics because after all… this AirBnB is the private property of a NOLA resident, but I felt safe and comfortable after my fun-filled yesterday.

My AirBnB bus

I used this cool renovated bus as my sleeping place. Found on AirBnB

I had a quick lunch at the neighborhood institute Mandina’s. Plenty of dark wood and tablecloths make the inside seem poshy, but around me families and old friends laughed as I dined on Gumbo and grilled Catfish.

New Orleans is famous for its above-ground cemeteries and the most famous of them all is the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Besides its varied architecture and long history, it’s also famous for its residents including Marie Laveau (supposed voodoo priestess in an often vandalized tomb), Paul Morphy (early world chess champion) and future resting place for actor Nicolas Cage. Despite its size—the cemetery is about the size of an acre– there were at least eight other tour groups visiting. My group was from Save Our Cemeteries who works closely with the Archdiocese in charge of the cemetery and therefore were very respectful of the tombs instead of treating the place like a haunted show.

St. Louis Cemetery No 1

As I was surrounded by the looming architecture of the tombs, it appeared somewhat fitting this was the only time on my trip the sky stayed overcast and released a few tears. The cemetery hinted of eeriness—I was surrounded by resting bodies! Although there were very ornately carved, newer tombs, vandalism had taken its toll on some of the older ones as bricks loosely gathered at the base.

Walking Bourbon Street

I’m about to enter the part of Bourbon Street famously known for partying and drinking

Afterwards I quickly visited the famous Bourbon Street but only the Southern architecture and occasional street performer captured my attention. It was too filled with drunken laughter and bars and I wasn’t in the mood to drink or party alone. A short stop at Spitfire Coffee fueled me with caffeine and revealed that not everything in the French Quarter was sub-par in its catering to tourists. With a few gimmicky options like the Hellfire Mocha (Espresso infused with habanero bitters) I found its coffee to be smooth and well-balanced. I sipped my Mole Espresso as I walked to the French Market.

The French Market has evolved since its start in the late 1700’s. This open-air market contains plenty of shopping above typical tourist trinkets. The food seemed the most popular with booths providing a variety of yummy cuisine including Cajun, Vegan, baked, and alcoholic smoothies. I nibbled a sweet, Cucumber-flavored Snowball from the Mother Nature’s booth while browsing a line of artist tables and their creations.

French Market on left

I’m standing on a median with the French Market to my left

An old acquaintance, Friend-of-a-friend Al brought me to Cajun Seafood outside of Downtown for a Crawfish meal. Although the building’s appearance showed wear and tear, it was plenty busy inside this neighborhood market and the Crawfish were very tasty and very seasoned.

And just like that my NOLA trip had ended.

The weariness but satisfaction at seeing so many different locations played in my mind as I returned my rental Ford to the Louis Armstrong Airport and slowly walked to the Southwest Airlines terminal. In the past 72 hours I’d toured through caverns, climbed a WWII war ship, entered a cemetery, sipped local rum, slept in a bus and more. Talk about blessed! Seriously—let me talk God for a moment—I totally thank him for keeping an eye on me and allowing me to experience all those blessings.

Eventually I felt the thicker humidity of the Florida atmosphere… I was home again.

PACKED DAY IN NEW ORLEANS

June 8, 2015

Pyra-Danny is taking a solo road trip to New Orleans for the three-day weekend. She’s already stopped at sites along the way and has finally made it to the Big Easy.

First full day in New Orleans! I practically speed drove to City Park ready to stretch my legs. I had one hour to burn before church but it wasn’t enough time. Larger than New York’s Central Park, City Park attracted picnics, bridal photos, joggers and more on this Sunday. My camera quickly filled with photos.

City Park image

Photos from City Park and my interaction with the Safety Pin sculpture

I finally stumbled into the Besthoff Sculpture Garden—part of City Park’s Museum of Art. This large property was free to enter and was begging for photos. Featuring a variety of styles and artists, I wandered this place aimlessly and paused at each sculpture- especially the non-humanoid ones. I stared too long at the giant safety pin (by Claes Oldenburg) and mused at the tenderness of Fernando Botero’s Mother and Child.

As expected, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church was a lavishly decorated church with a looming brick architecture on the outside. After getting my Jesus on I drove to Rouses—a local grocery chain that visually reminded me Winn Dixie and Whole Foods. Besides replenishing my stock of snacks, I found a few local gifts for friends at home: Zapp’s Potato Chips decorated in flavors like Voodoo, Gator, and Cajun as well as Swamp Pop soda.

This picture is a must-- Jackson Square in the back with the St. Louis Cathedral visible.

This picture is a must– Jackson Square in the back with the St. Louis Cathedral visible.

I continued through New Orlean’s neighborhoods which contained strangely angled roads and sudden potholes until I arrived at the southern borders of the French Quarter. Note: parking garages are pricey and street parking was rare. As I walked along Decatur Street, the picture-perfect scenery I’ve only seen from NOLA promos started to surround me. I was on a mission to enter the French Market where a shuttle would transport me to the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery.

I was packed between some giggly ladies from Pittsburgh, young Dallas belles, and a solo traveler from Australia as we entered the Distillery and the giggles grew louder as we were greeted with a cup of mildly sweet tea mixed with their Crystal Rum—there’s nothing like starting a tour buzzed.

This self-sufficient Distillery guided us from the local Sugar entering the building all the way to the bottling and labeling process. It was sometimes difficult to hear our tour guide—an older gentleman who chuckled at his own jokes. Of course following the tour were further sampling of the Distillery’s products. I’m relatively new to drinking spirits and hesitantly sipped their Amber Rum while others around me downed it as mini shots. Smooth and strong. I bought myself souvenirs of their famous Crystal and a bottle of Gingeroo.

Returning to the French Quarter and hungry from the alcohol, I entered the inconspicuous Verti Marte. Don’t let this mini mart with a worn façade fool you because its deli is known for their crazy and delicious sandwiches. My ‘All That Jazz’ Sandwich was stuffed with Roast Beef, Ham, Veggies, Cheese and—yougottabekiddingme—Shrimp and Mushrooms sautéed in Creole Mustard and their secret ‘Wow Sauce.’

Performance artists

Performance artists around Jackson Square [Left] Magician in front of St. Louis Cathedral [Right] Jazz band taking photos with tourists

Jackson Square is the busy hub for all NOLA visits. Since a Confirmation event was preventing the public from entering St. Louis Cathedral, I instead joined the crowd in dancing to the beats of a very entertaining jazz band mere steps away. The trombonist would frequently invite tourists to take photos with the band even as they played. All types of performance artists were gathered at the Square. As for Jackson Square itself—it was tough to find a space for myself inside that acre of greenery because of all the crowds craving the same peace.

No trip to NOLA is complete without Café Du Monde. It’s amusing to watch the dance of the young servers as they weaved through the crowded tables stuffed with patrons taking photos of their Beignets topped with powdered Sugar. Around the corner large windows provided great views of the kitchen as they cut up the dough and fried. I took my order to go and walked to the nearby Riverfront. One bite of my Beignet and my dark shirt instantly became a canvas for pop art. As I enjoyed my Café Au Lait a troupe of Acro Yogis took photos of themselves using the water as a background.

Slowly I walked the Riverfront back to my car and eventually entered my AirBnB for the night as the sky broke apart into a harsh thunderstorm. True—in a land of bars and night music I had turned in early. No drinking and partying for me that night. I instantly fell asleep in an effort to reload my energy for the next day.

ROAD TRIP FROM CENTRAL FLORIDA TO NEW ORLEANS

June 1, 2015

On Friday night I questioned the seeming insanity of traveling alone. By Saturday morning I was elated.

Friday–1st day of my trip– was a blur. As soon as my job ended I dropped my car near the airport and grabbed the rented Ford Focus that would be companion for the next few days. After a quick stop at Publix for groceries because… well… I’d rather have snacks in the car than stop every time I got hungry, it was onto the four-hour drive to Tallahassee. Four hours of barely changing scenery. I was all alone and questioning myself, “Why was I doing this?”

My road trip from Central Florida to New Orleans had begun. I was a young lady traveler and I was going by myself. Friday night alone in my hotel room brought loneliness but as soon as I turned west onto I-10 I was re-energized with a list of experiences to conquer.

FLORIDA CAVERNS STATE PARK – MARIANNA, FL

From Tallahassee it took one hour to enter Marianna and I heard the cavern tours filled quickly so I drove FAST! Suddenly (angels singing) I crossed the Eastern to Central Time change and instantly became VERY early for the first tour (score one for forgotten time changes). I quickly paid to enter the park and then the fee for the tour.

Our tour group in one of the larger rooms

Our tour group in one of the larger rooms

I entered the park with one purpose—to see the caverns. What?! Caves in Florida? They exist! For one hour a tour guide led us below the earth through six different ‘rooms.’ We learned the history, stories, and formations behind the Caverns. I’ve been to three major caverns in the U.S. and while Florida Caverns doesn’t compare in size, the formations were just as pretty. Of course… no touching! But photography is encouraged so I fired away.

Afterwards I took a hike through the trees where all the people, buildings, and man-made noises disappeared. It was just me (and the mosquitoes). No restaurants. No tourists lines. This was the real Florida.

JOE PATTI’S SEAFOOD – PENSACOLA, FL

After two more hours drive west, a plethora of online reviews brought me to Joe Patti’s where the crowd of cars and smell of the Gulf waters prepared me for a treat. This mad house is half market and half deli. Insanely fresh, local seafood. The volume was loud as customers pointed at rows upon rows of fish, crustaceans and more and yelled out orders to the staff. Even cooler—the staff steamed or seasoned their selections. Instead I made my way to the small Sushi counter in the back (yes—random location) for some of the freshest Rolls I’ve ever had.

Joe Patti's in Pensacola

USS ALABAMA MEMORIAL PARK  – MOBILE, AL

This park filled with vehicles from World War II also is in memory of those who served. Seeing these giants up close led me to imagine the tragedies, triumphs, and stories each of these vehicles must’ve seen during their service. There are many small planes and trucks scattered on the grounds as well as in the warehouse, but the attention grabbers were the USS Alabama and USS Drum.

USS Alabama in the back

About to enter the USS Alabama – giant ship still pulsing with energy.

While the submarine USS Drum (SS-228) allowed you to descend below and dance with claustrophobia, the giant ship USS Alabama (BB-60) became an imposing figure floating silently on the water. I followed a paper tour (a little confusing and not very informative) that led me all throughout the ship from the sleeping quarters, engine room, medical areas, and even up top for a view of the whole park. Without AC, the tour became stuffy at times but even thicker was the lingering energy from its history still pulsing through the rooms.

SEARCHING OUT A DESERTED SIX FLAGS – NEW ORLEANS, LA

After two more hours of driving I entered the borders of New Orleans and passed the remnants of roller coasters from the abandoned Six Flags theme park—victim of Hurricane Katrina. Beautiful photography from  Urban Explorers (like Jason Lanier) begged and tempted me- But how to get in? I circled the park twice. The former bus entrance had another car parked next to the gate. Security? Unsurprising since 2014 brought Hollywood producers who used the park’s background for upcoming blockbusters. Its only other entrance involved crossing 20 feet of marsh and forest from a nearby neighborhood. I stood in front of said location and stared at the trees before deciding that possible snake bites were not worth the pictures. Fail.

A HOSTEL TAKEOVER

As one of the newest hostels, Site 61 was highly rated with its vintage and quirky décor as a gathering spot for other young travelers like me. The dining hall was filled as they chatted about their experiences with New Orleans and gave suggestions for the newcomers.

BECAUSE I CAN

Just drivingWhew… since Friday night I’ve driven almost 10 hours between Central Florida to New Orleans. While the driving monotony was getting to me Friday, I was reminded today of why I still went for it—the experiences along the way. There were many undiscovered treasures that would’ve stayed that way if I had merely flown. Also, I wouldn’t even be travelling if I had decided to wait for one of my friends to get time off to have a companion. Time for a good sleep… there’s so much to see in the Big Easy and so little time. I know I’ll need that energy.

Stay tuned as I deliver more experiences from my trip to New Orleans.

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