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A Quick Day in Hot Springs, AR

In July of 2016, the family took a quick day trip through Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. We spent the majority of the day walking down bath house row and popping in to see interiors when possible. Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view.

Hot Springs, AR

Bath House Row on Central Avenue

 

 

More sites in Hot Springs National Park

 

Housed in an old drive through mortuary, theMaxwell Blade’s Odditorium is a collection of the strange, spooky, and grotesque. From dinosaur eggs to a collection of stuffed albino animals, this place was straight up weird, but it was an escape from the summer sun and a fun attraction for the four year old.

 

McConnells Mill State Park

So often, I tend to over-plan a trip. I’ll download and pour over countless maps, line up every possible stop on the way, and research my destination until I’ve taken every element of surprise out of the adventure. Actually, at that point it’s not even an adventure – it’s more like a script. This trip to McConnells Mill State Park was the opposite of that.

The weekend was filled with wonderful moments with good friends in Sewickley, PA. I was in town to celebrate the first communion of my Godchild Harper, but we also enjoyed some youth T-ball and softball games, wonderful meals, good conversations, and a few drinks on the porch in absolutely perfect weather.

Monday, I was left with a free day – the town of Sewickley went back to school and work, and I called up other friends just a few miles up the road in Baden, PA. Katie and Paul cooked me a hearty breakfast and suggested hiking at the McConnells Mill State Park. It was a fantastic suggestion. The images for this slice were all taken with an iPhone 6 and run through the Instagram Sierra filter, with added vignette and tilt-shift.

The loop that I chose started at a covered bridge near the mill, followed Slippery Rock Creek to the next bridge, and then returned to the mill. The whole while, I was surrounded by rushing water, towering rock walls, fly-fishermen, and tons of boulders. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website describes the park, “McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, encompasses 2,546 acres of the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Created by the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago, the gorge has steeps sides and the valley floor is littered with huge boulders and is a national natural landmark. A gristmill built in the 1800s is open for tours. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, year-round.”

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The Blessing of the Fleet

Blessing of the Fleet

Rounding Bayou Lafourche, it occurred to us that this all would’ve looked more beautiful on a different day. It seems ungrateful and petty but blue skies rather than the uniform ceiling of grey would’ve set the colors of the flags in brighter contrast as they snapped against the booms of the trawl boats. Still, a dozen or so trawl boats decked out in flags and docked along the bayou wall in front of a Catholic Church is a dramatic sight to behold, especially when you aren’t expecting it. We were down the bayou for a different reason, having forgotten that this was happening, but when we came around the bend in Golden Meadow and saw the flags and the boats and all the people, we remembered that it was time for the Blessing of the Fleet.

Blessing of the Fleet

The Blessing of the Fleet is not a new tradition: it’s been present in some form or another among the French-Catholic fishing communities of South Louisiana for nearly 300 years. As the economics of trawling fluctuate, so does the trawler fleet, and thus the attendance of the Blessing. In recent years, at least along Bayou Lafourche, the Blessing has been sparsely attended. Many people we spoke to had talked about how the tradition seemed to be fading. But this year’s different: it’s the 100th anniversary of the Golden Meadow Catholic Church – Our Lady of Prompt Succor – so virtually every active trawl boat in town came to celebrate the Blessing.

Blessing of the Fleet

It goes like this: the trawl boats are decorated from hull to mast with as many flags as possible, from the little strings of triangles to the big whipping national emblems. The boats dock along the bayou-side in front of the church, one against another, three or four deep so that to get from the last boat to the shore one has to climb through three others. On board each boat families are grilling and drinking beer, sitting in folding chairs on the deck visiting, celebrating the impending start of the trawling season. All morning people show up and stroll along the shore, talking with trawlers and their families, who make it a point to invite people on board for a drink or a plate of roasted pig. When the priest comes out of the Church flanked by the Knights of Columbus in their suits, sashes and pointed hats, everyone lines up on their boats. The priest gives the blessing, asking for a bountiful and safe shrimping season. The Knights salute with their sabres and the whole blessing party boards the trawl boats.

Blessing of the Fleet

At this point, we were walking along the shore and happened to catch the eye of Captain Jared Guidry of the Lady Dolcina – a family friend in the way that most people down the bayou are family friends. He invited us on board, and we found a spot on deck next to his daughter’s crib, nestled against the knots of rigging and boom lines. In a flurry of activity, the stacks of boats dissolved into a line and the boat parade began. From the Bayou we watched the town of Golden Meadow pass by. The buildings along LA 1 are familiar, we’ve driven that road a thousand times, but from the bayou the town looks different, especially this time, on every dock sit people waving, watching the trawling fleet pass by, flags flying, a riot of color and culture. The pride people take in their heritage, the importance they place in this tradition is obvious in the overjoyed faces of children watching, and the misty eyes of the elderly, waving from their porches.

Blessing of the Fleet

In small communities like Golden Meadow, the local Catholic church hitting its centennial isn’t only a milestone for parishioners, it’s a milestone for the whole community. Though many people living along Bayou Lafourche consider themselves Catholic, many are not religiously so. In a place like Golden Meadow, Catholicism is as much a cultural aspect as a spiritual one, so people who wouldn’t normally attend mass make it a point to celebrate the church’s anniversary and are proud to participate in a tradition like the Blessing of the Fleet. These observations are no longer purely religious ceremonies. They’re community events, but they harken back to the region’s earliest francophone heritage, a heritage that’s still familiar and relevant to many living along the bayou.

Blessing of the Fleet

The coastal communities of Louisiana have faced many hardships in the last 300 years from bad policies to hurricanes to oil spills to cheap foreign shrimp, and while the list of hardships seems to be piling up faster and faster these days, communities have remained vibrant. Though newer industries like the oil field seem to have taken over the economy in the many towns scattered along the various bayous, events like the Blessing of the Fleet tie every roughneck back to his trawl boat heritage. These events remind people of their roots and their culture in a time when the larger national culture encourages everyone to leave such pasts behind. But in coastal Louisiana, the past is much more than history: it’s the reason for the present.

Blessing of the Fleet

We’re proud to have participated in the Blessing of the Fleet, and we’re proud to be associated with the people of Golden Meadow who’ve been scratching out a living from the sea for 300 years. The trawlers and their families have endured much worse than grey skies and dreamt of much more than a bright blue to contrast the colors of their flags. It’s our hope that they continue to endure. It’s our hope that the blessing bestowed by the priests of Our Lady of Prompt Succor ensures safety and prosperity for the crews of these trawl boats. Our region, culture, and dinner plates depend on them.

 

Aussie Clare Visits Hawaii

In September of 2015 I vacationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu with a couple of friends from Melbourne. Our accommodation for the week was in one of the penthouse suites of the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel. The hotel is located in downtown Honolulu. The views were pretty great during both the day and the night.

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We decided we needed to plan our week out properly, so we stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant and took out the notebook. We found this restaurant as we wandered along Ala Moana Boulevard.

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Now we were full of beans and Hawaiian water. It took us a couple of days to adjust to the humidity in Honolulu. I mean, we expected it to be hot there, but the humidity was a lot more intense than anticipated.

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The Hawaiian Monarch Hotel was hosting a pool party on the Saturday we arrived…so we went downstairs to have a couple of poolside drinks, listen to the band, and soak up the vibe.

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It was kind of like being in one of those cheesy American Spring Break films. When’s the beer pong starting??

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Another thing we discovered about Hawaii when we were there was they love Spam. Like, they actually Really love it. This guy was wearing the coolest Spam board shorts.

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Surfboards for hire.

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My travel buddies. Also my work buddies. Sun hats and flip flops are essential in Hawaii.

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There was a burger lounge on the street corner opposite our hotel called Cheeseburger Waikiki. The food and drink were great, and all the staff were really friendly. And they had a terrific beer selection, so all in all, check check check!

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After a few days hanging out in downtown Honolulu we decided to get out of the touristy centre (which was filled with Aussies) and go and see where the real people of Hawaii lived. So we hired a car and drove to the North part of the island.

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Those iconic Hawaiian mountains follow you everywhere you go in Oahu. The view on the other side of this photo, where the little house faces, is the Pacific Ocean. How amazing is that? Mountains in your backyard and an ocean in your front yard.

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A Bud by the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t mine. Wish I could say it was.

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This is the waterfall at Waimea Falls Park. It was a 20 minute hike to the falls, where we found a lifeguard on duty who was looking after all of the tourists who wanted to go for a swim. The national park is filled with thousands of different plants, trees and flowers. Park staff provide visitors with historical information about the area. It was a great place to spend a few hours.

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I’m not quite sure what this guy was doing. Or the one on the left.

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This is Serg’s Mexican Kitchen, it’s known locally as Serg’s, and it is the best Mexican cuisine on the island. There are only a few Serg’s, but if you’re in Hawaii, find one with your Google map app and stop in for a meal. I didn’t get to find out what a Flautas is.

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This was my lunch. Two grilled vege, soft shell taco’s and a mandarin soda. They weren’t licensed to serve alcohol, FYI.

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This is the pedestrian crossing right in front of Serg’s, Manoa. It is one of the most scenic pedestrian crossings I have ever seen. It is located on the corner of E Manoa Road and Keama Place. Manoa is a great place to visit. It’s a really short drive out of Honolulu and is a university town.

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Back at the hotel. When they say it is going to rain in Hawaii, it means that it will rain for five minutes, then the sun will come out again. But when it rains, it pours.

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What can I say about Kailua Beach?? The next few photos speak for themselves. The water is as blue as that. The sand is as white as that. Kailua Beach is the most idyllic place I have ever been to (and I live in Australia!).

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When I got back home to Melbourne, this photo was the screensaver on my phone for weeks. I hope I will go back to Kailua one day. The town itself is also terrific.

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This is the car park at the beach. And there’s those mountains again.

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I loved the colourful license plates in Hawaii.

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Our day at The Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre was fantastic. It is such a well organised place. The video’s, the tours, and the museum explain the events of the attack in amazing detail.

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After watching a short video in the theatre, that includes footage of the attack, we all took a boat across to the USS Arizona Memorial. The tour guide talked a lot more about the tragic events of the attack and encouraged people to pay their respects.

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The flag at half mast. It was a nice coincidence that we visited Pearl Harbor on September 11th.

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This is the entrance to the museum where you use a headset and audio guide to follow each exhibit in the room. The audio tour is voiced by actress Jamie Lee Curtis but also includes audio by survivors and sound bytes from the attack.

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This happy couple were getting their wedding photos taken in front of the Hawaiian Theatre in downtown Chinatown.

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