Posted in Travel

What to do near New Orleans

Continued from previous post: What to do in New Orleans

After a few days in the city, we picked up a car and headed out of New Orleans. The first thing I insisted we do is drive across the longest bridge over water in the world: the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway – at 24 miles long. Once on the bridge, it wasn’t long before we could see only road and water. The geek in me thought this was great.


After crossing we were then on the wrong side of the lake, so we drove north, west then south and ended up all the way back around at Peavine Road. We had lunch at Frenier Landing. The deserted restaurant was decorated with creepy looking stuffed animals and had boat propellers for ceiling fans. A quick bowl of gumbo later we drove to our next stop.


We crossed the river at the impressive Veterans Memorial Bridge and went into the Whitney Plantation for the late afternoon tour.

At the Whitney Plantation we were greeted by our guide, Ali. Ali gave a passionate and fascinating history of the slavery in the US and the work that went on at this plantation. He showed us the plantation church, the cabins, the jail, the kitchen and the ‘big house’.  The big house was large, functional, and painted to resemble marble, as was apparently high fashion at the time. The double row of trees leading from the river to the front of the house acted as an air conditioner for the house, and the floor of the ground level was tiled, to better allow floodwaters to escape. In stark contrast, the slave cabins were small, hot and sparse.

The tour was a sobering experience, and at the end, when describing how slavery was ended through the efforts of those who had nothing, Ali told us what he tells school kids that visit: “not attempting to achieve your dreams is just laziness.”

That evening we stayed at the excellent Holiday Inn Express at LaPlace, and went to the Crab Trap Restaurant for dinner where we had the obligatory boiled crawfish. We ordered about twice as much as should have, and we needed a lesson from the waitress on how to, er, deal with the crawfish. Quite a long time later, and in need of several bandages from the sharp bits of shell, we were finished. It was delicious.

The next morning, we drove the few minutes up the road to Cajun Pride Swamp Tours. We boarded the boat, and for the next two hours our guide did not draw breath as we motored through the beautiful swamp. His monologue was uninterrupted as he threw marshmallows to the crocodiles in the water and to the raccoon family on the land. The turtles were not interested in marshmallows and remained perched on their fallen logs. At one point the guide pulled out a baby crocodile from a tank hidden at the back of the boat, taped its jaw shut (“regulations”) and passed it around the 40 people on board. I got the impression it was less than impressed with the experience, but everyone on board, including us, was.

Then we disembarked, and that was the end of our trip to Louisiana. We had a fantastic time in and around New Orleans. I highly recommend you visit too!

Check out: New Orleans: food city

Posted in Travel

What to do in New Orleans

This was our first trip to New Orleans and during the few days we had in the city we tried to visit every single place we were recommended.



We went across the river on the $2 ferry to Algiers. The variety of house decoration in this neighborhood was staggering: they were all colors of the rainbow, all were festooned with plants and flowers, and many had intricate woodwork. It was only after we got back we learned that Algiers has a very high crime rate.

We went up to the City Park on the tram with wooden seats and windows you could lean your whole torso out of if you chose. At the gardens, Spanish moss coated all the trees and homeless people were camped in the bushes.


We took the tram to the Garden District and used a self-guided walking tour I found on the internet to explore the area. The tour was quite interesting but one got the impression most of the information was made up. The cemetery and the architecture in this area were fascinating. We saw beads in the trees.

We also went to the French Market for the random stalls and walked along Frenchmen Street one evening to hear loud jazz overlapping from multiple venues.

As a closet geography geek I was interested to see the city’s flood defenses up close. We found out how to get to the walkways on top of the levees (i.e. scramble up them) and saw the city and the Mississippi river from a different perspective. From here we saw houses and industry to our left, and to our right, the river and giant tanker ships. The river seemed like the focus of the city, yet somehow peripheral to it.


Walking the streets of the French Quarter (Vieux Carré) in the relatively early morning was a contrast to the loud and crowded night-time experience. In daylight we were greeted by delivery trucks jamming the road. Men with hand carts were pushing boxes of vegetables to their destinations, and the ground was wet from owners hosing down the sidewalk from the previous night’s excess.


The freight trains are a feature of downtown New Orleans too. We heard the horn every evening, but thought it was a ship. Then as we were heading to the Hilton’s Dragos for charbroiled oysters, and we saw a massive train trundle past.

Next post: What to do near New Orleans. We took a car to visit a plantation and a swamp.

Previous post / New Orleans: food city

Next post / What to do near New Orleans


Posted in Travel

Maui in ten photographs

We spent Christmas 2015 in Maui, HI. It was a magical, relaxing week.

Maui: we were staying in Wailea

The first day we went on a tour of the Road to Hana, then spent most of the rest of the week at the beach and watching sunsets. Below are my top ten photographs of the trip.

Even flying into Maui was spectacular.
This cove on the Road to Hana was on the eastern side of the island.  Massive waves rolled in from the Pacific and crashed through blowholes in the rock.
On the Road to Hana waterfalls proved to be popular attractions.
Well past Hana at this point, the volcanic nature of the landscape becomes obvious.
The scenery was beyond breathtaking all the way around the island.
Back near Wailea, we spent a couple of mornings at Big Beach.
We watched the sunset each night. Never did see a green flash though.
A colorful gecko came to say hello Christmas morning.
An evening walk was the perfect way to end Christmas Day.
Posted in astronomy, Los Angeles, Travel

Owens Valley Astrophotography Adventure

Our February adventure had an astronomical theme – we went to Owens Valley, California.   The husband had been here many times thanks to his work on the LEDA project but this was my first time – and the first time his visit didn’t require a transcontinental flight followed by a 5 hour drive.

We picked President’s Day weekend and set off at a civilized 10am.  Our first stop was still in Pasadena – at Samy’s Camera Shop. This is a fabulous store packed with absolutely everything you could possibly want as a photographer.  As someone who grew up in a house with a darkroom, it was strangely fun to see boxes of photographic paper on the shelf.  We picked up a roll of 200ASA film and got the nice man to load it into my Nikon FE. I also packed my camera clamp which I would use instead of a tripod.

We set off up the 210 North and turned off at the nasty 5/210 junction along the 14 then the 395 towards Bishop, CA.  Along the way we stopped at Lancaster and spotted a donut shop in an otherwise sketchy looking shopping center.  Sugary Donuts turned out to be an excellent find.


Back on the road we found ourselves leaving civilization and heading into the mountains.  Near the turn off to the 136 we spied a Visitor Center (the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center) so we stopped to stock up on maps and eat our donuts.


Just before we arrived in Bishop we turned up the 168 towards Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory. We had been given a key to the LEDA facility (a tricked out shipping container) so my husband was able to show me all the work he had done for the two years we were in Boston.

The LEDA telescope is an array of 251 antennas like the ones below, arranged over a wide area, with another 5 different type of antenna spaced around the edges.  These antennas work together to produce a picture of the sky – but not a normal picture – one taken with radio waves.  The scientists are hoping to ‘see’ what the universe looked like soon after the first stars turned on after the Big Bang.  Their ‘first light’ image is here:

Other telescopes on the site

After all this excitement we headed to our hotel in Bishop (Creekside Innmy review here).

Once it was fully dark we got back in the car and headed back to the Observatory.  After only a mild amount of swearing and dropping parts in the sand we hooked up the camera to its clamp, and clamped the clamp to a handy fence post. We opened the shutter and waited. It was at this point we realized it wasn’t exactly warm outside…

I pointed the camera at Orion/Taurus/Pleiades wide field.  Then I pointed it at the North Star.  Then we switched locations and got some foreground telescope action happening.  Exposures were all less than 10 minutes (we didn’t time it). [Later, I got the film developed and scanned at Samy’s, then rinsed the images through Photoshop on ‘auto correct’].

Pointing at the North Star
Pointing at the North Star
Pointing north-ish
Pointing north-ish

The next day we drove up towards the Bristlecone Pine Forest.  We drove up from 4000ft to something like 8000ft, saw a bit of snow on the road, and caught glimpses of some spectacular views.  The vista at the top was breathtaking and the car smelled hot. Along the way I used up the last few frames of the roll of film, and found it interesting to compare the same shot taken with the digital camera and the film camera.

On our way home we tried to get lunch at the Copper Top BBQ place (somewhere my husband and his colleagues ‘discovered’ when it first opened a couple of years ago) – but the line was more than an hour long…

For those interested, here is a recent article about Owens Valley and its dust issue:


Question: When was the last time you got a roll of film developed?


Posted in Los Angeles, Travel

Five things to do in LA

Dad recently visited LA and we had a whirlwind week racing all over town trying to get professional travel photos. Here are five things we got up to:

1. Santa Anita Races

2. Hollywood Walk of Fame

3. City views from Mulholland Drive

4. Space shuttle Endeavour

5. Downtown LA

Photos are mine (when I remembered to take them) unless watermarked.

Santa Anita Races

We went to Santa Anita races on Friday afternoon. It was $4 to park and there were plenty of spaces.  As it turned out, there weren’t many people inside! It was only $10 each to get into the posh bit. Races were every 30 minutes or so, and there was a good variety of lengths and types, and a nice shaded parade ring too.  Beers were exceptionally expensive – even for Budweiser.  The views of the mountains were spectacular from the grandstands.

Santa Anita racecourse
Santa Anita racecourse
Good view of the San Gabriel mountains.
Good view of the San Gabriel mountains.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

We drove to Hollywood to look at the Walk of Fame on Saturday afternoon.  We parked in the parking lot at the Hollywood/Highland shopping center ($2 for two hours if you get your parking validated somewhere – there’s a handy stand near the entrance/exit to one of the parking levels where you can buy an overpriced drink).  The walk of fame was hideous.  So loud, so many people dressed up in costumes hassling you.  Gross.  It was like the worst bits of Vegas all concentrated into one place.  We had a cup of tea in McDonald’s – a surprisingly calm oasis.

No pictures.

City views from Mulholland Drive

Then, that Saturday evening, as sunset approached, we drove along Cahuenga Blvd to Mulholland Drive, and drove about a mile up to the Hollywood Bowl lookout.  After getting one of only five parking spots we set up the camera for some twilight shots.  As it got darker, it started to get cold. Despite the sign saying the park closed at sunset, no one told us to go away – we were there at least 30 minutes after dark.  We weren’t the only ones with cameras.  The view was awesome, and the 101 freeway was so loud!

View of Downtown from the Hollywood Bowl lookout
View of Downtown from the Hollywood Bowl lookout
Making out like I know what I'm doing...
Making out like I know what I’m doing…

Space shuttle Endeavour

On Sunday morning we headed to the California Science Center to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour (my fourth time!).  We got street parking on South Flower St near the corner of W 37th Pl – free on Sundays (otherwise metered).  My tip: go early at the weekend – they usually let you in regardless of what time your ticket says. For an express visit, go look at the models of satellites upstairs on the right, then go to Endeavour, then go home.

Endeavour at the California Science Center
Endeavour at the California Science Center

Downtown LA

On Tuesday afternoon, armed with a Metro day ticket, we got the Gold Line into Downtown LA and then switched to the Red line to Pershing Square. Knowing nothing about Downtown, this was the handiest I could see to the middle of the city.  We found ourselves walking south along Broadway and we couldn’t believe what we saw.  The majority of the shops looked temporary. By contrast, there were homeless people set up permanently on benches.  There were no signs in English.

It wasn’t that we felt particularly unsafe, it was just so surprising.

Later as the sun was setting we raced, on foot, up to 3rd street – avoiding the tunnel – to get some city view photos.  Running against the setting sun is never a good situation to be in, however we got the shot after only a mild amount of swearing. Then, hungry and miles from anywhere, we started back to Pasadena.  Some locals told us walking through the 3rd St tunnel was safe (it was, but my word, it was loud), then good old Google found us a bus, arriving immediately, which took us to the Arts District Gold Line station where we got the train back to Pasadena.

Downtown LA - Dad's picture was much better, obviously!
Downtown LA – Dad’s picture was much better, obviously!


Question: Downtown LA – what’s up with that? Did we miss something?