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Adventures in the Villa

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Music

2022-10-25 Mountain View, Missouri

We traveled back to Mountain Grove to visit the Missouri State Fruit Experimentation Station…

They were ready to welcome us!

This place is what it says it is: they do research into many types of fruits…

So they showed us the fruit of their vines…

We had a lovely tasting of their wines…

After the tasting we toured the winery…

Not exactly a large facility. But, after all, they are just doing research…

Next stop: The wine store… We exercised great restraint…

Next door is a small brewery.

We all had lunch there. It is sort of a hobby brewery: family run, only open on occasion. Today they served us tacos. Not really Mexican food; just Missouri food (beef, cheese, tomatoes) served in a tortilla… Taco sauce served on the side…

We returned to the campground. We enjoyed Happy Hours together…

And then we had a little entertainment…

This was a local group that had spent some time in Hollywood recording their music, mostly for movie soundtracks… But they live here now, playing these types of gigs…

On a side note:

This electric organ is in the clubhouse. These hymn books are properly placed. One might think they hold church services here now and again; however, when I picked up one of the books it was almost stuck to the rack, and it clearly had never been used, or even opened before… Apparently, they’re just props.

So we returned to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-22 Mountain View, Missouri

Fun day today! We drove a few miles south to the town of West Plains, and stopped into the Presbyterian Church…

We weren’t here for a church service; the church offers its facilities to community groups for various things…

Our time here started with lunch. We (there are 57 of us…) were fed Thanksgiving Dinner by a local Amish family. There is a Amish community of about 20 family is West Plains and the surrounding area. This family of eight (including six kids) prepared and served Turkey, stuffing, beans and corn, potatoes and gravy, salad, fresh rolls, and pie for dessert…

It was lovely…

We then heard from a local historian about the Ozarks culture and history in this area… This bearded man in the next photo was the originator of this caravan, and his family has been here since the early 1800s; they left Tennessee when it got to be too crowded: They had seen a human footprint down by the creek that was not part of the family… He is a retired Judge…

We migrated to the church sanctuary, where the local high school choir was assembling…

This group is all seniors, and some of the best singers in the 100 person choir…

The best part? They sang all showtunes! South Pacific!, My Fair Lady! Who could ask for anything more?

They were great and it was lots of fun to hear them. I hope these experiences give these kids a leg up as they leave school and grow into productive citizens…

As we left the church we enjoyed the historic downtown, although most of the businesses have all moved into strip centers along the highway that bypasses the town…

Our evening was free… Happy Hours and sunset ensued…

An enjoyable time was had by all…

2022-10-20 Mountain Grove, Missouri

Quiet Morning…

Then we drove about 20 miles south. Over dirt and gravel roads, and fording raging rivers…

We finally found the Topaz Mill, built 1895.

Buried deep in the hills of Douglas County is a nearly nonexistent town called Topaz. Serene scenery and a gushing spring say you’ve arrived, after traveling a crunchy gravel road. Perhaps some of those same stones carried locals who, in the past, brought their wheat to be ground at the town’s mill. 

Nowadays, things are much different.  Instead of finding dry goods or flour, getting a haircut or posting a letter, as local folks once did, visitors find something else. They discover a picture of the past. Because the town’s former general store, barbershop, and mill have been preserved and show a way of life once common – but now long gone – in the Ozarks.  

Today, Joe Bob O’Neal and his wife, Betsy, are the caretakers of Topaz and live on the property. They eagerly share their unique destination with the world, giving tours and time to anyone who wants to come learn.

The area’s first mill was built around 1840, but Joe Bob shares that its modern history actually goes back much deeper, and ties to Henry Schoolcraft.

“In 1818, 1819, Henry Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone were the first travelers to document their travels through this part of the country,” shares Joe Bobl. “On Nov. 20, 1818, according to their diaries … he came across a spring that was mammoth size and it flowed out of a rock ledge and ran about 200 yards and ran into the river, and doubled the size of the river. Everybody says that was Topaz spring.”

The first mill at Topaz was thought to have been built around 1840. No one knows for sure what happened to that one, but it was only the first phase of the community, which evolved greatly in the late 19th century. In the early 1890s, the post office was commissioned, and in 1895, the current mill was built.

Unlocking its door today unlocks a whole new world – but really, one that’s old.

“The equipment that’s in this mill, with which to make flour, came from Great Western Manufacturing in Leavenworth, Kansas,” says Joe Bob. “I have the receipt here for when this equipment was bought, dated May 2, 1903. I’ve had people tell me this is the most valuable piece in the whole building because they’ve never seen anything like this.”

In addition to the original mill equipment, a black and white barber chair sits and waits for customers who will never come. On the wall, faded lettering still advertises haircuts and tonics for a quarter and a dime apiece. Outside, the spring roars.

Joe Bob shares the relevance and role of the mill and town years ago, which history shows was likely a hub in the area. It was likely quite populated in the past. However, time was not kind to Topaz, and by the 1940s, the town had nearly disappeared. One of the last remnants at that time was the store. Part of that was in response to changing times, ease of travel and less need for the community’s amenities.

In the 1950s, Joe Bob’s family purchased the mill. His grandparents and aunt and uncle were dairy farmers near Republic, and were in need of a good water source during a time of drought. They discovered the property, and moved to Douglas County. An interesting fact: Joe Bob’s grandfather actually worked in mills, similar to the one at Topaz, when he was a young adult.

“I didn’t realize this until just recently, but he would’ve know everything about this mill because he would have used it,” says Joe Bob.

Maybe it was the personal connection to milling. But whatever the reason, the O’Neals opted to keep the old store and mill around. Eventually, restoration happened and over the years, visitors began stopping by.

“My uncle, if he was around here, and somebody came looking for the place, he’d stop what he was doing and give them a tour just like I do,” says Joe Bob.

Growing up, Joe Bob spent summers at Topaz. In 2013, he and Betsy moved there from Kansas City.

Today, the O’Neals welcome visitors to Topaz, and give tours so others can learn from the store and mill.

The fact that the mill equipment is all intact is amazing…

The mill pond is fed by a 10 million gallon per day spring… Water runs down these concrete sluices (built in 1992 to replace the rotting wooden sluices), and feeds the mills turbine. Yep – a turbine. No silly water wheel here!

Where the water fills the shaft and drives the turbine…

This is just like the turbine that drives the mill. Joe Bob saws it been here at least since the late 1940s, and he doesn’t know why…

Joe Bob gave us the history of the place. One of the reasons the town died, and the reason towns like this died all over the country, was that the homestead act that gave settlers the rights to settle here allotted each farmer 40 acres. That could support a family in the mid-1800s. But as farming methods and equipment improved, some farmers bought their neighbors’ parcels and many farmers sold out and left. So instead of having ten families per 400 acres you now have maybe two or three… Huge population drop…

Inside, Joe Bob explained what each piece of equipment was and how it works.

As built, the mill could process corn meal and refined flour. All Joe Bob does today is make cornmeal about once or twice per month… The refined flour making process is extremely complex, so he doesn’t bother…

We returned via a different route – no rivers to ford…

That evening we were treated to musicians playing bluegrass music…

We returned to the Villa; an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-05-27 – Springtime in the Rockies caravan… Estes Park, CO – Day 1

We awoke to 41 degrees outside, and 57 degrees inside the Villa. We started the fireplace and we were soon cozy inside. We had a leisurely morning, then went for a short walk around the park. We stopped in at the office to check out their little store, and found a lake in a quiet grassy meadow…

And that was about it for the day. We puttered around, went for more walks. After driving for four days straight we needed a break…

It was great to see the lineup of Airstreams again…

Tonight is our first group meeting. We reviewed the drivers’ manual (a three-ring binder with all the caravan information, itinerary, schedule, assignments, etc.). We all introduced ourselves briefly. We have 7-8 first time caravaners, and several of the “old-timers” have been on as many as 14-15 caravans. (We fall into the middle – this is our 5th caravan.)

The meeting was followed by dinner of salad, baked beans, mac ‘n cheese, and BBQ beef sandwiches…

After dinner the campfire was lit…

And we were entertained by a local musician, who sang and played Colorado-style songs. Mostly John Denver songs…

I am always amazed when I hear musicians like this. This guy – Cowboybrad.com – was very good! He normally plays with a few background musicians, but due to the covid, the others were unavailable. But as good as he is, he is unknown. Imagine how good the really famous musicians, like John Denver, Stevie Nicks, or Glen Campbell (am I dating myself?) really are… Just a thought.

As darkness fell we returned to the Villa. And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2021-04-19 – Scouting The California Architecture Food and Wine caravan…

Wine tasting in Sonoma County

More research today! In case you missed it, this trip is all about research. We are planning to lead an Airstream caravan, next year, in 2022. It is called California Architecture, Food, and Wine. I think the title is pretty self-explanatory!

Since, shockingly, I don’t know everything about California, Architecture, Food, or Wine, we need to do this research. A tough job, but somebody has to do it!

So we have explored the Point Reyes National Seashore, sampled restaurants, visited RV Parks, and driven the proposed route; today we are wine tasting, and researching more restaurants.

First on our list today is Kosta Browne, in Sebastopol. No rolling hills covered with vineyards here; just an industrial complex full of wine-making equipment. We met our host, who knew who we were, knew what we typically bought, and made us feel like honored guests. He led us on a brief tour of the facility. (We had been here in 2018…). As we tasted the recent vintages we discussed the possibility of bringing 20 people in for a tasting. Many wineries will not or can not handle groups of this size, but K-B was happy to accommodate us. We exchanged contact information and we were on our way.

Next up was Rochiolli Vineyards, in the Russian River Valley. We have been buying wine here for over 20 years. HERE are the hills and vineyards…

However, he tasting was fairly perfunctory… We tasted a sampling of their cheapest, most common wines, and there was no personal touch. Great wines, but not much more.

We moved on to MacRostie Vineyards. Again, a beautiful view and a beautiful building.

We enjoyed a fun tasting, exploring some wine we had not yet tasted. (We left with a case…) We discussed the caravan and we look forward to bring the caravan here next year.

Our final tasting was at Williams Selyem. Again, a beautiful place; in the past we had done the tasting in their extravagant “Tasting Palace”; today we were escorted to the owner’s house! It is a spectacular, simple two bedroom house overlooking the property. (Sorry – no pictures!) We sat at the dining table, with the retracting glass wall open to the view. Our host, again, knew everything about our wine preferences, and he knew that we starting buying W-S wines in 1999 (after being on the waiting list for almost 5 years…). We discussed the caravan and I’m sure we can work out a tasting for the group here.

By now we were ready for dinner. We drove to Petaluma and looked at a few places. We settled on Speakeasy, which is exactly what a speakeasy generally is not… We sat outdoors on their patio; in the adjacent courtyard there was a local band that played covers from Crosby Stills and Nash, Credence Clearwater Revival, and others.

Music was great and food was traditional (she had a burger and fries, I had braised short-ribs in blue cheese risotto). We’re not sure we will take 20 people here, but there are other options in the neighborhood.

We walked back to the truck, stopped off for gas, and headed back to the Villa. An enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-05-09 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Country and Country Music – Day #15

We visited three local points of interest today… We started at Mountain Home Place…

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This is a working farm; all the buildings here were moved onto this property from adjacent land that was taken when the Paintsville Lake State Park lake was built.  The buildings date from 1850 to 1900.

Of course, we start in the Gift Shoppe… They sell all hand-made products produced by local craftsmen…

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The old men caravaners enjoyed sitting on the front porch…

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We strolled the property and saw the vintage buildings; we also enjoyed their animals…

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I enjoyed what appeared to be really tentative foundations…

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We saw the local church…

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And the local one-room school house, in use until 1958…

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A typical cabin…

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Interesting ladder to the attic lofts…

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Then we moved on to lunch in Paintsville…

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I enjoyed a local delicacy… Fried Bologna Sammich…

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The next local landmark we toured was the Mayo United Methodist Church; the church was donated in 1904 by Mr. Mayo, who made his fortune in coal mining.  (We are only about 50 miles from the West Virginia border.)

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The stained glass windows are remarkable…

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The organ was relatively small (1,000 pipes, 18 stops, two manuals), but high quality, and still in good condition; it still uses the original mechanical connections to operate the pipes.  The manual pumps were replaced by electric fan chambers in 1914 when electricity arrived at the church…

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Our own caravaner played for us, and we returned the favor by singing a few hymns…

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Next door was Mr. Mayo’s house… The Mayos only lived here for a few years; Mr. Mayo died suddenly, and Mrs. Mayo moved to Tennessee to be with her family.  The house (45 rooms) is now a Catholic School…

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And finally we visited the Highway 23 Museum…

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It was so-named because of the many country music stars who were born along Highway 23…

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The only country music stars I had known anything about were Loretta Lynn and her sister Crystal Gail.  We also saw a video of an interview with Loretta Lynn about the making of the movie, “The Coal Miner’s Daughter”… We will visit her childhood home in nearby Butcher Hollow tomorrow, and re-watch the movie in a few days…

The museum is small, but it was enjoyed by those who followed country music… We returned to the Villa, and walked along the lake again…

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Happy Hours ensued, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-30 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Bardstown, KY; My Old Kentucky Home and Bourbon – Day #6

This morning we left early for our appointment at Jim Beam for our tour.

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Again the tour was pretty typical.  Jim Beam is arguable the largest producer of bourbon in the world and is distributed all over the world.  Their brands include not only Jim Beam, but Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, and Booker’s… It is a huge industrial plant, all controlled by computers and other machines.  Once the fermented mash is pumped into the still it takes about 90 seconds for one barrel of whiskey to be produced.  Also, we learned that Jim Beam and their other bourbons are about 70% corn, plus rye and malted barley.  (Remember, Makers Mark uses wheat in lieu of rye…)

One VERY fun thing we did is fill our own bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon.  We started by rinsing a bottle (with Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon), then putting our initials on the bottle, and setting the bottle on the bottling line…

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The final product:

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We dipped the bottle into the wax (twice) then once again just enough to allow us to put our thumbprint on our bottle…!

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This was a unique experience for us!

We asked why the barrel Houses are black.  The tour guide denied that the barrel houses have mold.  She claimed they were painted black out of tradition, but they also have them in all colors… Also, they do not rotate barrels like Makers Mark does – they select 1,000 barrels from various locations in the barrel house to blend and bottle…

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At the tasting our guide selected for us the Single Barrel Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black.  Lynda selected Baker’s and I selected the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut for our third choice.

As most of you know, Angels’ Share is the term distillers use for the bourbon that evaporates from the barrels while they are aging.  After 5-6 years a 53 gallon barrel will contain only 35 gallons (at best) of bourbon; the rest has evaporated and is called Angels’ Share.  But the bourbon also soaks into the barrel staves; to make Devil’s Cut they empty out the barrel, add distilled water, and put the barrel in a shaker for several hours.  The water, after absorbing the bourbon from the wood, is added back to the bourbon to reach the final proof.  It was excellent! Very rich and smooth!

We also learned what makes their super-premium bourbons special:

Basil Hayden’s has a high percentage of rye and a unique aging process; Baker’s is aged at least 7 years; and Booker’s, always my favorite, is always made at barrel strength (about 115 proof); what sets it apart is that the barrels are taken from special areas (on the 5th and 6th floors) of select barrel houses, where the aging is known to be extra special…

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This was Booker Noe’s house; he was the last of the family to live on the property…

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Next on the day’s agenda was a visit to “My Old Kentucky Home”.  It is actually called Federal Hill, and it was the home of three generations of the Rowan family from 1795 to 1922.

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The grounds are beautiful.  No interior photos were allowed…

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Worse house tour ever.  The house was very grand and elegant, similar to plantation houses we saw in Louisiana, but the colors and patterns of wallpaper and carpets were from the Victorian period and they hurt my eyes… We heard almost nothing about features of the house, but just an hour’s worth of family history and gossip.  Sorry, not my thing.

The park is named “My Old Kentucky Home” after the song of the same title by Stephen Foster, who was a close friend of the Rowan family.  It is the Kentucky State Song and is sung at ALL civic events in Kentucky, including sports games, political rallies, and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.  Everyone in Kentucky LOVES this song.

Ironically, the song is NOT about the joys and beauty of Kentucky; the song tells of the hardships of slaves, and all about the difficult lives they had, and heartbreak of being sold to an unknown owner.  It was used by abolitionists like Frederick Douglas in their anti-slavery work.  It seems odd that most Kentuckians seem to think it is all about the loveliness of their state, when it is telling the dark history of the state and our country…

We escaped as quickly as we could, and drove to Heaven Hill Distillery, named after Mr. Heavenhill, who owned some adjacent land that once held a distillery before prohibition.

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Never heard of Heaven Hill?  Maybe you have heard of some of their brands:

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Larceny, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, McKenna, Rittenhouse…???

Heaven Hill is the largest independent, family owned distillery in the country.  ALL other large distilleries are owned by the multi-national holding companies like Brown-Forman, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Fortune Brands (Suntory), etc.  Heaven Hill is still owned by the descendants of its founders, the five Shapiro brothers.  Interestingly, Earl Beam, of the Jim Beam family, was the first master distiller, and there have been MANY Beam family members in important positions at Heaven Hill over the years.

We saw a short film about the distillery; apparently they buy up small brands from around the country and make re-make them in their own image.  Many of the brands I’ve never heard of; many are regional brands of very small production…

We tasted three of their bourbons, plus one rye whiskey.  Nothing spectacular, and we didn’t buy any.  We did learn more about the different processes in making different whiskeys…

I’ve concluded that the mash bill, which grains are used, and what percentages are used, have little effect on the final taste of the bourbon.  Ninety percent of the flavor comes from the barrel.  In my tasting experiences this week all the taste and nuance comes from the aging process and the selection of the various barrels that have aged differently.  We will test this theory further when we visit Buffalo Trace next week; stay tuned…

After we were done tasting we hurried back to the campground, where our leaders were pouring Mint Juleps using Buffalo Trace, which the distillery had provided to us.

Mint Juleps gave way to our 4th round of GAMS…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-13 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Seaside, FL, and a shocking discovery…!

We spent the day in Seaside, FL.    WARNING:  Architectural rantings and discussions approaching!!!

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Seaside is an unincorporated master-planned community on the western Florida panhandle.  One of the first communities in America designed on the principles of New Urbanism, ot Neo-Traditional Town Planning, the town has become the topic of slide lectures in architectural schools and in housing-industry magazines world-wide, and is visited by design professionals (like me…) from all over.  

The idea behind Seaside came in 1946, when the grandfather of future founder Robert S. Davis bought 80 acres of land along the shore of Northwest Florida as a summer retreat for his family.  In 1978 Davis inherited the parcel from his grandfather, and aimed to transform it into an old-fashioned beach town, with traditional wood-framed cottages typical of the Florida Panhandle.  Davis, his wife Daryl, and architectural partners Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company did painstakingly detailed research; they toured the south, studying small towns, armed with cameras, sketch pads, and tape measures; this became the basic for the planning of Seaside.  While a few houses were built in 1982 to “test the waters”, the final master plan was complete around 1985.

The developers used the master plan to write their own zoning codes.  Seaside’s commercial hub is located at the town center.  The streets are designed in a radiating street pattern with pedestrian alleys and open spaces located throughout the town.  There is a mix of uses and residential types throughout the community.

Individual housing units in Seaside are required to be different from other buildings, with designs ranging from styles such as Victorian, Neoclassical, Modern, Postmodern, and Deconstructivism.  Seaside includes buildings by many different architects, including such notables as Robert A. M. Stern, Daniel Solomon, and Samuel Mockbee.  Architect Scott Merrill designed the Seaside Chapel, an interfaith chapel and local landmark.  Seaside has no private front lawns, and only native plants are used in front yards.  The picket fences, required to be in front of all houses are all different from each other…

The result of all this work and planning is a remarkable little community.  Streets are designed first for pedestrians, and secondarily for automobiles.   We walked for hours, and every time we turned the corner a new delight was seen.

We arrived at about 9:00 on a Saturday morning.  The farmers’ market was in full swing; we stopped by one of the many Airstream “Food Trucks” for a breakfast crepe and coffee…

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We then headed out for a stroll along the beach.  There are seven access points to the beach, each one with a tower-type structure to mark its presence, each tower designed by a different architect.  This tower and stair is the ONLY public access to this stretch of beach…

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Yes, that’s right.  The beach is private, and all the other access points have locked gates.  Not only that, but there is a solid wall of buildings lining the Gulf Coast Highway (30A), so that as you walk or drive along the highway you wouldn’t even know the beach and the gulf are there!  I think Florida could learn a thing or two from other States which treat the beaches and oceans as a public resource to be enjoyed by all…

But, in any case, the beach is beautiful, with the same powder sugar sand like we saw in Mississippi…

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Lynda tested the waters.  Cooler than what we expected, but warmer than any beach in California… (You did not know that California beaches and the Pacific Ocean there are cold???)

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We were also surprised to see the waves, which were non-existent in Mississippi…

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These are some of the houses that block off the beach from the highway…

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We had a lovely walk on the beach, but we came here to see the town…

All buildings appear to have the form of this type of vernacular, although there are many different styles of homes…

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The streets are delightful…

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This tiny house is set back far from its neighbors…

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Not all the houses are traditional…

 

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These townhouses surround a courtyard just a short block from the business district, and many have businesses on the ground floor…

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This is the interfaith non-denominational chapel.  We wished our schedule would have allowed us to attend services on Sunday…

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More streets – each one more delightful than the next…

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Finally, by mid afternoon, we were ready for a break.  The beach was much busier now, and the patrons of the restaurants were hopping…

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We had a lovely lunch on the terrace overlooking the beach…

We walked around the business district and did some shopping…

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The troubadours were playing adjacent to the farmers’ market…

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There is this large central park shaped like a amphitheater.  On Friday evenings they show movies on the lawn…

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The farmers’ market…

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We returned to the Villa.  Happy Hours ensued.

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-04-10 – Airstream Cajun Country Caravan – Carencro and Lafayette, LA

Today was our last day of caravan activities… All we did was eat…

We began with breakfast in the meeting room, served by fellow caravaners.  Our local Airstream club always serves hearty breakfasts, which I always enjoy.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls, casseroles, corned beef hash, yogurt, cereals, etc.  This was not one of those breakfasts…

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There were tiny silver dollar size blueberry pancakes.  Nice start.  Next we had what were reported to be beignets, but they were nothing like the beignets we’re familiar with.  As usual, they were covered with powdered sugar… But these were not puffy little balls – they were more like flat pancakes.  Maybe a regional thing…

Then… crawfish ettouffe, served over grits (a semi-edible combination of cornmeal and fiberglass…).  And ice cream on top.  I’m sorry.  Maybe the others enjoy food like this, but it is not part of my culture…

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But it’s always fun hanging out with the group for a meal, even if we didn’t eat much…

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After breakfast we walked around the park again…

Adjacent to the campground there is a house with a motorhome in a lovely carport…

I’m sure the motorhome cost way more than the house…

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We prepared the Villa for travel.  Cleaned up, hitched up, slide-in, tanks emptied and filled.  Tonight is the final banquet, a long-standing tradition of these caravans.  Of course, in the not too distance past these were formal affairs, with dinner jackets and long formal dresses.  Thankfully, this is a thing of the past…

We gathered at an old Lafayette institution – Don’s Seafood and Steak house… We started with happy hour…

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Then dinner and pronouncements…

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We were joined for the evening by a fellow Airstreamer, and a local Cajun himself.  Beaudreau is a common term for any Cajun, but this just happens to be his name. (Sorry – no picture)  He was the originator of this caravan and he lead it for many years.  He also told a few jokes about people named Beaudreau and Thibodeau… Ask me later if I remember them…

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We were entertained by our own caravaners who had brought their instruments along…

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We bid our farewells to our new friends, some of which we will see again in two weeks in Kentucky…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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