Caribbean Journey In The Time Of Covid — Prelude: Texas, Louisiana & Florida (2022)
Well, as everyone knows, the Covid pandemic has really inhibited travelling for the last two years. Our last seagoing adventure was a voyage to South America and Antarctica in the first part of 2019. Our voyage planned for the Fall of 2020 was cancelled and sea voyages pretty much disappeared, along with our favorite ships, Prinsendam and Amsterdam, both of which were sold as cruise companies fought to survive without income. Since we are in a particularly vulnerable demographic (over 65), we followed Shakespeare’s advice that discretion is the better part of valor by mostly staying home and wearing masks when venturing out.
But by the Fall of 2021 things started looking a little better. The spread of Covid seemed to be diminishing, cruise ships began returning to the seas, and we had both been fully vaccinated and boosted. We had family business to take care of in Texas so we decided to extend that trip to include a Caribbean cruise departing from Ft Lauderdale in mid-March that would be restricted mostly to vaccinated passengers and crew. We had second thoughts as the spread of Covid rose again in January and we read about many cruise passengers ending up in isolation cabins or disembarked mid-cruise. But the incidence of Covid began to drop rapidly during February which made us more confidant about our plans.
Before embarking on the ship we spent a couple of weeks on the road, leaving on March 2. Stopping in Memphis on March 4 on our way to Texas to visit Mary’s brother Joe we wanted to have dinner at our favorite BBQ restaurant, Corky’s, but discovered that it was closed for repairs after a fire. We ate at one of their other locations instead where the food was good but the ambience not nearly as much fun. On March 5 we came across a rural library in Maud, Texas, near Joe’s house, then on March 6in Ft Worth we all dined at Cattlemen’s steakhouse, which was still as good as when we had our pre-wedding dinner there almost 50 years ago. We continued to San Antonio, where we spent the afternoon of March 7 shopping among the myriad Mexican vendors at the Market Square emporium, and also enjoyed delicious Mexican food at a restaurant on the River Walk. We walked around the River Walk for a while, then back on the street we encountered horse drawn carriages lit up like they were part of the Disney electric light parade.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We spent two nights in New Orleans, where we had not been for some time. We stayed in a hotel a block off Canal Street, a main thoroughfare running along the edge of the French Quarter. We spent our full day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter, an area rife with atmosphere, It has rows of old houses, most now stores, with wrought iron balconies. Its crowded streets are always fun to explore, as are the boutique shops selling many kinds of local wares.
We stopped for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde in the French Market. In operation since 1862, this awning covered patio is a favored tourist attraction these days. When we have been here before waitresses served the tables with coffee and beignets on ceramic plates and cups, but that is now gone. We sat down expecting the usual waitress but none materialized, then we noticed the line of people waiting to ;purchase their food at the back of the patio. Joining the line, we obtained coffee in paper cups and beignets in a paper bag and sat down at a table. For those who don’t know, the coffee here is laced with chicory which alters the flavor noticeably. Beignets are hole-free donuts covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar, most of which we brushed off before removing them from the bag. They are really tasty.
New Orleans is a city filled with music. While we were at the Café du Monde a local jazz band was performing on the sidewalk outside, occasionally passing the hat (actually a bucket) for tips between songs. They were a good bit better than you might expect from street musicians. Also hanging around outside was a character you would probably never see anywhere but in New Orleans (she didn’t perform).
Leaving the Café du Monde we walked down the block to Evans’ Candy Factory, which has been making New Orleans pralines here since 1900. Pralines look like flat cookies but are made mostly of brown sugar melted with butter or cream and nuts (usually pecans) on top. In Texas this is pronounced “pray-leen,” but in New Orleans it is “praw-leen.” We also walked by a small square with a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, a native of the city’s namesake in France.
After visiting the waterfront and some art galleries we began walking back toward our hotel. In Jackson Square (named for an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the winning general in the 1814 Battle of New Orleans) we came across a larger brass band, complete with Sousaphone (tuba). Very colorful and very engaging music.
New Orleans is justly famous for its fine restaurants. That evening we dined at Broussard’s, a century old award winning Creole restaurant in the French Quarter. The food and the service were outstanding, a memorable dining experience.
St Petersburg, Florida
We drove for two days to reach St Petersburg on the evening of March 13 for a visit with Michael and Irene, Mary’s uncle & aunt and their dog, Zoe. Since we would be on the road again for Mary’s birthday on March 15, we had an early celebration there at dinner on March 14 with a small cake. Longtime readers of this blog know that we are always on the lookout for interesting libraries to visit (Mary was a librarian). Here we visited the Mirror Lake Community Library, the original public library in St Petersburg which opened in 1915. It was a Carnegie library built in Beaux Arts style and is still very attractive after renovations in the 1990’s.
To board the ship everyone had to present a negative Covid test taken within two days of boarding, a tight schedule for folks travelling to Ft Lauderdale. We had purchased a couple of rapid home tests that were monitored over the internet (a HAL requirement) and we used them on the morning of March 15 before leaving to drive to Ft Lauderdale. We had been very careful about mask wearing and social distancing during our road trip, but there was still a lot of anxiety about successfully using the tests (the instructions seemed complicated) as well as the result. After all, with so much planning and two weeks on the road to get there it would have been hard to be refused boarding because of a positive test. But once online with a monitor we found the tests much easier to use than it had seemed and both of us tested negative (yay!). It only took about half an hour to complete both tests and then we were away to Ft Lauderdale to embark the next day on Nieuw Statendam.