Thursday, October 31, 2013

Louisiana, Convent - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - Looking Back in Time

St. Michael’s Catholic Church is within a short walk from where we are staying.  The church was built in 1831.  It underwent a renovation in 2008 and is very beautiful.
There was at one time a 60-foot steeple which was visible for miles in the middle of the church.  Hurricane Betsy blew the steeple down in 1965 and it was never replaced.
This historic church is home to a replica of the famous Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto which was constructed in 1876.  It is known as one of the first grottos of Lourdes to be built in America.  The grotto was constructed by Christophe Colomb, Jr. who is thought to be a relative of Christopher Columbus.

The grotto has a unique construction – it is made from bagasse, which is a fibrous waste product of sugar cane, rather than the usual stone configuration.  Sugar cane was then, as it is now a major crop of Louisiana.  The domed shape of the grotto comes from an inverted sugar cane kettle.
This cross was a gift from a baroness from Belgium and was placed on the alter until 1889 when the current alter was purchased.

This hand carved alter was purchased in 1889 in France at the Paris World’s Fair and is absolutely breathtaking.

This Henry Erban pipe organ is the oldest pipe organ on record in Louisiana, dating back to 1857 - would have loved to hear it.
There is a school next door to the church, not sure of the date of its construction but it appears to be very old.
We went into one of the rooms and it seems that at least this room is still used for some kind of classroom because there was a paper dated October 27, 2013 laying on one of the desks.

From the church we walked out to the cemetery which was established in 1827.  We were surprised that there wasn’t a progression of older gravesites to newer ones, the very old like this one were mixed in with the newer ones.  I snapped a picture of this to show the structure of the older gravesites.  I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this and looked closer at the picture that the person buried here died 180 years ago to the date – October 31, 1833.

We walked back to the plantation and walked through the bottom floor of the house.  The second floor is occupied by guests right now.  This stairway that is right off of the back door is beautiful.

Lovely antiques are on display throughout the house.

This bed is just enormous.

Since this is a working bed and breakfast, an updated kitchen is probably a must and this one is pretty special.

This fountain area is right outside the back door.

I wondered how you reached the bucket to this well since the sidewalls are so high.  There was a picture inside the house that showed this well with a type of water tower on top with piping running to the house, probably very modern for the time.

In the woods not too far from our site there is a chimney that is believed to be from one of the old slave quarters.  Right next to it is a small cemetery, one of the graves is simply marked “baby”.

There are several figurines in the woods, this guy is right behind our site.

This evening we went to a dinner that was provided by the owners of the plantation.  We found out that they have owned the property for a little over seven years.  When they bought the property, there was the old plantation house and cottage next to it, the rest of the property was woods.  Prior to purchasing the plantation they were fulltime RVers.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Louisiana, Convent - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - Poche Plantation

As we headed toward Baton Rouge this morning we crossed another of the high bridges made to accommodate the large oil ships.  There was a 10-story hotel right next to this and I was looking at the top of the roof as we went over the bridge.  I don’t know how tall that is, but we were way up there.
Several miles of I-10 go through the swamps, one of them I noted was Henderson Swamp.

The construction of this highway had to be a real nightmare.  I noticed as we went along that there were some real high water marks on some of these pillars.

We took State Road 44 south t0 Convent.  It is also called River Road because it follows the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  Several old plantations are located along this stretch of road.  We are staying at one that has an RV park on site.  I have to admit that it’s a little different than my vision of a plantation (which is Tara).  But it’s a really neat place.
We are staying at Poche Plantation.  The plantation house was built in 1870 by Judge Felix Pierre Poche who was one of the founders of the American Bar Association.

The style of the house is Victorian Renaissance Revival.  We’ve walked around the outside of the house, but haven’t gone inside yet.  From what I’ve read about the plantation I know that at least a small part of the blockbuster movie “The Butler” was shot here.
The current owners are doing a lot of work to the plantation and they have already completed a lot of improvements.  Like rental cabins.
The pool area and a lot of the buildings on the grounds have hand painted murals on them.

The hot tub is in this cute little structure – not sure you can tell by the picture but it has a beautiful cut glass window in the back

Tomorrow night we’ll be attending a free dinner put on by the owners on Halloween night – as long as we don’t have eye of newt, I think I’ll be good.
We went across the road and walked along a path at the top of the levee along the Mississippi River.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Louisiana, Westlake - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - Whispering Meadow RV Park

This was one of our views as we left Texas today. 
They have some really tall bridges in Texas to accommodate the large oil barges that come into the refineries.  When we went to the Houston Space Center we crossed the Jesse Jones Bridge on I-45 that went over the Houston Shipping Channel.  It had a clearance of 175 feet below it – it was amazing.  We went over a couple of others today that were high but not nearly that high.
We are staying one night at Whispering Meadow RV Park.  It’s a small park, but nice and quiet.

We went across the street for our walk tonight to a very large sports complex that was part of their parks department.  Lots of baseball fields with turf infields and covered spectator bleachers

Covered picnic areas and a walking trail.
It was called Pinederosa Park – it was clear why.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Texas, Houston - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - Houston Motor Sports Park

Wishing a Happy Birthday to son David.  It was so good to spend the month of September with him and his family.  I think he is an amazing man (honest, I would think so even if I wasn’t his mom). 
We got home too late last night for me to do a blog entry.  We went to the Houston Motor Sports Park which is about 10 minutes from where we are staying.

This was a double header night so we saw lots of racing.  One of the events that I had never seen before was dwarf car races.  These cars are only about waist high, kind of cute – I’m sure their drivers would be appalled at that description.
The rest of the night was races I was familiar with.

They have a meet and greet during intermission.  Most of the fans leave their seats and go out on the track and get autographs and talk to the drivers.  We just sat and watched.  What was funny was the announcer trying to get all of the people to go back to their seats so the next round of racing could start.

Our main source of amusement last night was the flagger who was dreadfully slow on getting out the yellow flag when there was a wreck.  When a car wrecked the rest of the cars were almost around the track and on top of it before the flagger realized there was a problem.  I’m sure that isn’t an easy job, but he was definitely a little slow on the uptake.  And, since we were sitting close to where he was located it was pretty noticeable.

They also had dollar beers – lots of people taking advantage of that.  We just drank the water we took with us, and found another source of amusement.
They had fireworks to celebrate the end of their season.  But, since they couldn’t get everyone to get back to their seats after the intermission they were running behind schedule and had to set them off before the races were finished so they wouldn’t violate local noise ordinances.  In fact, one race was going on when they set them off – no distraction to the drivers there.  I need to learn how to take better pictures of fireworks.

The weather couldn’t have been better and it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening.  If you are a race fan and in the Houston area, I would suggest checking it out.
Later in the evening or early morning some strong winds and heavy rain came through the area and today has been overcast all day.  I think the temperatures were still in the 70s so I’m not complaining.

This is a picture of us where we are now.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Texas, Houston - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - Johnson Space Center

I’ve been sitting here for the last half hour looking at the pictures I took today and trying to think whether or not I absorbed enough of the information we heard to be able to pass along something that made sense.  I have to admit that when the majority of the achievements of the space program were made in the late 60’s and early 70’s I was too busy being a young mom to pay much attention to what was going on in the rest of the world.  Today I paid more attention and I was in awe.
We headed out early to the Johnson Space Center and its visitors center Space Center Houston.  It was in the mid 80’s with low humidity here today, it was a beautiful day to be out on the bike.  I hear it was spitting snow back in Indiana, got to admit I don’t miss that.

We took a tram from the visitor center to the Johnson Space Center (JSC).  JSC is a federal facility, home to Mission Control, where missions are monitored and directed from seconds after launch to landing.  This is where astronauts are trained and NASA programs are managed.

This is where more than 800 pounds of lunar rocks and soil collected during the Apollo program are housed.  Many tests are being conducted on those rocks to see how plants might be grown.
JSC is also the lead center in design and implementation of the International Space Station.  We currently have two American astronauts in the International Space Station along with one Italian and three Russians.

We listened to a presentation in the observation room looking into the Mission Control room that was used from 1965 to 1992.  This is where US Presidents, the Queen of England and the astronaut’s families came to observe.  In the mid 60’s there was no such thing as around the clock television coverage so if the families wanted to know what was going on they had to come to the observation room.
I was surprised, I thought the Mission Control Room would be bigger.  The monitors you see are not computers only data display screens.  The people who were monitoring the screens had to write down the data they were keeping track of.  They mentioned that the mainframe computer they had at the time had about 5 MB of memory or enough for 10 digital pictures.  They didn’t have calculators so any calculations were made on slide rules.  Amazing they were able to actually get a man to the moon.

We reached the observation room by climbing 87 steps.  They asked before we started up the stairs if anyone would have a problem with that.  At step 1 it didn’t sound like much of a problem.  However, if there had been 88 steps I might not have made it – definitely have to get an exercise program going.  As we were going up these steps, we passed the Mission Control room in current use.
From Mission Control we went to the Space Vehicle Mock Up Facility.  This is where the astronauts receive a lot of their training.  They learn to work in near zero gravity conditions.  They learn the ins and outs of operating the equipment for the US and other countries.

These are the Orion capsules which are being developed for travel to Mars.

A few of the models of the rovers the astronauts use.
This robot is a development for the future.  Our guide said its fingers were so well developed that it could turn pages and text without errors.
Our last stop was to see the Saturn V spaceship.  There were 21 spaceships built for the Apollo program.  Seventeen of them went into space, funds were cut after that.  This is one of the three spaceships that were ready to go in that program but never made it into space.  This thing is huge – over 300 feet long (tall).

There are five combustion engines on the back.  See how small this man looks next to one.  Our guide told us that the first two sections of this spacecraft are basically fuel tanks.

This very front part is where the astronauts are.  I had to concentrate not to shiver at the very thought of being packed into such a small space.

This is something I didn’t expect to see at the space center, but they were right across the road from the building housing the Saturn V spaceship.

Back in the visitors center we saw the actual Apollo 17 command module.  This was the last mission of project Apollo, the last manned spaceship to have traveled to the moon, December 7-19 1972.

And I touched a 3.8 billion year old moon rock.  This is one of eight samples of moon rock in the world that the public can touch.  It was very smooth, but that could be because so many people have touched it.

We saw the trainer that was used to train astronauts for working/living in the Skylab, America’s first space station.  See the guy floating?  He looked so real I had to double check.