July 16, 2017

U.S. Southern Route West, Part 1

I drive outside of North America, E drives in North America -- this sabbatical year, I made out like a bandit.
We've got a bit of a schedule to keep on our drive back to California.  Technically, the sabbatical year is up today, and we are now on borrowed time.

Unlike the lovely 9 week trip we made from California north to Canada and then east, below the great lakes, back up over Niagra falls and through Quebec to Maine and down to Atlanta, we're pushing the mileage and minimizing the site-seeing on our trip back.

So many wrought iron fences in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
E drove from Atlanta to New Orleans in one 6 hour plus day.  We arrived to heat and humidity and a culture that was so uniquely its own that it floored me.  If most of our American travels are about realizing how much major US cities are all starting to evolve to be more like each other, arrival in New Orleans was the opposite.  This place is *very* much its own, with very strong French, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. 

Also, the food.

5 PM beignet snack before a hot sauce tasting
at Pepper Palace (YIKES!)
and a 2 hour walking tour
followed by a delicious dinner.
Oh. My. God.

We only ate a few meals in New Orleans, but I could not believe the deliciousness of every single bite that passed my lips.  These people have combined and savored everything from all of their immigrants and made a cuisine unlike any I've ever had.  So many different layers of flavor.

We took the Creole Queen down the Mississippi to the site of
the Battle of New Orleans, which they are proud to report
is how the war of 1812 was finished off, and why the USA
did not have to lose her Louisiana Purchase territory
to the Brits (or the Spanish, due to legal technicalities).
After 2 nights in New Orleans, E drove another 6+ hour day to Austin so that we could visit with friends.  Visiting Austin was bittersweet.  The C family were the folks we had our most frequent social interactions with when they lived in our town.  They moved while we were traveling, and coming back home to miss them is going to suck.  Thankfully, they have a very comfortable guest suite that we plan to take frequent advantage of.

Austin still feels foreign to me, but after several visits in the last few years, it's starting to feel more and more comfortable.  For example, I thought I didn't like Tex-Mex, but actually I just hadn't had good Tex-Mex before Austin.  Similarly, I thought Texas BBQ brisket was fine, but the best offerings in Austin convinced me that it's one of the most impressive ways to cook beef, period.

Welcome to Texas, indeed!  Driving across the border from Louisiana.
I started running regularly in Austin after a couple days of recovery post Peachtree.  It was ridiculously humid, but after Atlanta and New Orleans, 70% humidity didn't seem too bad.  I kept the running up on our road trip after we left, and I pulled a 7-day 25 mile running streak (took day 8, today, off) for the first time in a long time, with most of the miles being slow (often run-walking), in heat and humidity.
Oh, Texas...
After a few fun days with the Cs, we pushed westward with one-night stays and days of driving with only the occasional stop for missile-related site-seeing.  Each day we got closer and closer to home, and things started feeling more and more familiar.  Rural Northern Californians, and particularly my Dad's and Mom's extended families and college friends have so much in common with the average person we encountered in Western Texas and New Mexico.  Every day of westward travel, as the landscape and air became drier and drier, and the accent moved more towards that of my grandparents, I could feel our cultural approach to my homeland in my bones.

Last night's accommodations at the Big Chile Inn, Las Cruces, NM.
After a full year of travel, we are coming home, visibly, palpably, a little each day.  And for the first time in my life, I'm completely devoid of wanderlust.  I can't wait to live a bay area home-bound life!


Arvay said...

Before even reading a word of this post, that map route just made me think, "All the Things to Eat!!"

bt said...

@Arvay -- EXACTLY.

Cathryn said...

We ate those beignets as well...they were so flipping good!