Polish Festival

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Ethnic festivals seem to be a running theme for me and Derek. First it was the Greek Festival, then the Japan Festival and now the Polish Festival.

We both enjoy the little glimpses into different cultures, and of course, the food is always excellent.

I will be honest up front and say that I was a little disappointed with the festival, but overall we had a nice time. The festival was at Our Lady of Częstochowa Parish. The church area was decorated nicely with lots of paper flowers.

There were some vendors, but not a lot. There was much more at the Greek and Japan festivals. We enjoyed looking at the Polish pottery collections. When we got married one of our friends gave us a small set of Polish pottery – two mugs and two small plates – and we still have them and use them regularly. There also seemed to be a lot of Amber jewelry. I was not aware that it was a popular Polish jewelry. I also enjoyed perusing through some pierogi cookbooks.

Speaking of that, of course I had pierogi for dinner. It was delicious! Derek had polish sausage. Derek also tried a Polish beer, and we had dessert. Derek had a cheesecake and I had a lemon bar.

There was also a silent auction inside that we checked out. But aside from that, we had seen everything and were only there for about a half hour! I had wanted to wait for the Polish dance group Wawel, but they weren’t going to perform for another hour.

There was a band called Ziggy that was playing on stage, but they were playing popular hits! They were good, but it was kind of weird to hear Michael Jackson at a Polish Festival…

In order to waste some time we decided to wander across the street to the Polish food store, which ended up being interesting. We came away with some delicious Polish candy, and a new favorite called Buttersby, a brand of fudge. We bought the vanilla flavor. So good!

I should mention that we went to the Polish Festival on opening night, Friday night, but it went on all weekend too. So we got in for free, which was a bonus. However, when Wawel came out to dance, I was upset because they weren’t in their traditional costumes! The announcer said since it was opening night, they were only giving a preview performance. I wish I had known that in advance otherwise we would have waited and gone on Saturday. Anyway, even though they were in shorts and t-shirts, they still did two traditional dances and they were fun to watch.

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Japan Festival

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A few weeks ago the 25th annual Japan Festival was held in Hermann Park. This was an event that I had wanted to attend last year, but could not due to my work schedule. Now that I work more normal hours, (my weekend is now Friday-Saturday,) this year has been spent attending things that I missed last year.

The day started out cold and rainy, much like the Tall Ship festival in Galveston the week before, but eventually the sun came out and it warmed up. Even with the dreary weather in the morning, there were tons of people there. It seems to be a very popular event, especially with kids dressing up like their favorite characters.

There were a ton of food vendors (we had teriyaki kabobs – delicious!) and merchandise vendors. I bought a bunch of cat themed items, including a maneki-neko, which is a popular white cat figurine with a raised paw that symbolizes good luck. There were also a bunch of games for kids. We also enjoyed looking at displays of bonsai trees. 

The highlight were all of the different stage performances. I saw a couple of dance performances, two singers, a J-Fashion Show, martial arts, and a shrine ceremony.

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Tall Ship Galveston

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Last weekend I attended Tall Ship Galveston, a part of the Tall Ship Challenge, where tall ships race each other from port to port. This was the first year it was held in the gulf coast.

I heard about this festival months ago, and made up my mind to go right then, because, where would I see a tall ship in my landlocked part of Pennsylvania? I am always trying to find new and different things to do, and this fit the bill.

There were a number of visiting ships, including: Oliver Hazard Perry, built in 2015 and based in Rhode Island (the newest tall ship built in America), Picton Castle, built in 1928 and based in the Cook Islands, and Oosterschelde, built in 1918 and based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Also participating was the Elissa, built in 1877, and based in Galveston. There were other ships participating, but these four were located at the pier where the festival was located.

I paid extra money to go on board the ships, and I think it was worth it. I can’t say there would have been much to do without the ships themselves. There was a few vendors and some music entertainment, but the festival grounds seemed smaller than I expected it to be.

Perhaps this was because of the weather, which left something to be desired. It was cold, wet and windy! A cold front came through during the day, and you could tell which people had bothered to look at the forecast and those who didn’t. I started out fine in a long sleeve shirt but quickly had to put on a fleece, and I’m glad I brought the umbrella. That may have kept some of the crowd away, (and some more vendors and entertainment.)

I was very impressed with the size of the ships. They don’t look all that big when you’re looking at them from land. The Oosterschlede in particular, its lower deck was beautiful, all done with wooden details. They even had a piano! The Oliver Hazard Perry can fit 17 crew members, plus up to 32 other guests. Wow! She is used for sailing school.

I really enjoyed photographing all of the details. So many ropes, so many sails and levers and pulleys! I guess the crew is just used to it. I heard one crew member of the Picton Castle say, “The ship is my home. Where she goes, that’s my latest address.”

I was happy to go on board the Elissa. I have seen the ship many times, but it costs extra to go on board. I felt that the ticket price was a two for one deal because of that.

After spending the weekend in Galveston, the ships raced to Pensacola, Florida, where they held a festival this weekend. On Monday they will head to New Orleans.

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Family visits Texas

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My family (my parents and my Aunt) were here for a week. My dad had moved us to Houston, and my Aunt visited last October for a long weekend, so they already knew what to expect somewhat, but this was my mom’s first time to the Lone Star State.

We had a full itinerary with multiple things to do every day. I did NOT bring my camera, which was refreshing, since I had already done everything before, and did not need photos of the same things. So, this post will be photo free, and more of a review of what we did. Many of the activities that we did are featured in previous blog posts.

The first thing that we did that ended up being a hit with everyone was dinner at the Gorgeous Gael, an Irish Pub in Rice Village. We ended up doing this the last night too.

We went to Old Town Spring, where mom and dad loved The Little Dutch Girl shop and we also went to Hermann Park and rode the train.

Thursday was a full day at the Rodeo. That was the one thing everyone was looking forward to the most. The highlight was seeing sixteen piglets that were born just 12 hours before! Everyone was amazed at the size of everything. My Aunt expressed concern when we entered the grounds at 10:30 a.m. and the rodeo/concert wasn’t until 6:45 p.m., but we kept busy all day. None of my family had ever seen anything like a rodeo. Luke Bryan was the performer, and he was excellent. (Stay tuned for a separate post on the rodeo.)

On Friday we checked out the University of Houston, with Derek as the tour guide. Everyone was really impressed with the student union center, which is about 10 times the size as the one in Mansfield University. Then we headed to the zoo. The highlights, at least for me, are always the big cats. Mom was excited to see Shasta, the UH cougar mascot. Both times we visited the cougar enclosure, she was sleeping. All cats are the same, right?

On Saturday we walked around downtown. We checked out Discovery Green, and wandered the streets for mom and dad to get a feel of the city. They were shocked that there was hardly anyone around compared to New York City. We went to Allen’s Landing, the birth place of Houston, and caught the end of the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, (canoe and kayak race) so a free party was included. We also took them to the pop up location of Niko Nikos in Market Square Park, and introduced them to some Greek food. It was funny when my dad made me order, because he could not pronounce anything.

Sunday was a day in Galveston. We stopped at the Ashton Villa, a house where General Gordon Granger announced the end of the Civil War to the people of Texas on June 19, 1865. We also went to the Moody Aquarium, at my mom’s request, because she loves penguins. We caught the penguin feeding in the morning, which was cool to see. To be honest though, it was a small aquarium, so I do not think the money was worth it. At any rate though, I was glad to get to do something new. We also wandered the beach, drove around the historic east end district to ogle at all of the large houses, and shopped on the Strand.

Monday was a day trip to Waco. I will post about that separately. We went to Magonlia at the Silos for my mom, who is a Fixer Upper fan. We also went sightseeing here and there in downtown Waco.

Tuesday we stayed close to home, because we were all so exhausted from the day before. We went to La Madeline’s for breakfast and then we headed to the Galleria for some shopping. My mom and dad got a kick out of a revolving sushi bar in the food court! We dropped off my Aunt at the airport in the afternoon.

Wednesday was my parent’s last day. We hiked around the Arboretum and then we went back to downtown to check out the underground tunnels since they were closed when we went before on the weekend. We went right during lunch break rush, and my parents were amazed. We also stopped back at Rice Village, and walked around a couple of shops.

All in all it was a good trip, and I think my family had a good first impression of Houston, and the state of Texas. It might be a few years until they visit again, but I am sure I can easily come up with a whole new itinerary since there is never a shortage of things to do.

 

 

 

Rodeo Parade

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Recently my schedule changed at work. Originally my weekend was a Wednesday-Thursday, which had its pros, but mostly cons. I hating missing out on weekend events, and there are a lot of them in a city! But, at the beginning of the year, my generous boss said that it wasn’t really fair that I had to work weekends, so my days off are now Friday-Saturday.

The first big event that came up since the schedule switch was the Rodeo parade, which is probably one of the events that I was the most disappointed about missing last year.

The rodeo parade features all of the trail riders, who had been on the “trail” for the week prior. The trail rides started as a way to honor the cattle rancher legacy, and to drum up publicity for the rodeo. I wrote an article about it, which you can read here: https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bellaire/news/article/Houston-Livestock-Show-Rodeo-trail-rides-raise-12627384.php#photo-7567488.

The parade was in downtown, on a Saturday morning. It was a LARGE parade. To be honest, after two hours, and the wagons and horses kept on coming, we left. Derek had to get home to work on homework.

It ended up being a much larger parade than I anticipated. The trail riders were the main focus I think, but there were also other groups in the parade, floats and school bands.

I absolutely love rodeo time in Houston. It makes me feel proud to be a Texan, even though I am just a transplant. Plus, it’s an excellent excuse to wear cowboy boots!

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New Orleans vacation

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I have a rather large travel bucket list. I have some favorites, but most are in no particular order, we’ll get there when we get there. When we made the announcement in March of 2016 that we were moving to Houston because Derek got accepted into UH, I immediately knew that New Orleans would be our next trip because it is a five and a half hours drive from Houston.

We went the week after New Years and my Aunt Susie came along. All in all we had an amazing time. We did everything we wanted to do, plus some extras that we were not expecting. The only thing that I could have dealt without was the cold. A cold front came through and temperatures were in the lower 40s, when it is usually lower 60s. We bundled up in may layers though and we ended up being fine.

We stayed at the JW Marriot on Canal Street, which was one block away from the French Quarter. There were a ton of shops and restaurants along Canal Street, including the street car line, so it was a great hub of activity.

We had three main attractions planned out: A river cruise on the Creole Queen, a cooking demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and a swamp boat tour through Cajun pride.

The Creole Queen was great. The guide was very informative and pointed out interesting things along the way. We had a short shore excursion at the Chalmette National Battlefield, which was the last battle of the War of 1812. It was windy up on the open deck, but there was a lower inside deck that was kept warm, with a optional lunch buffet.

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The New Orleans School of Cooking was probably my favorite thing we did on the trip, because it was so different. We watched Pat cook gumbo, jumbalaya, bread pudding and pralines. We got to eat everything, which was great because it served as our lunch, and got the recipes to take home. We also learned a lot of cuisine history. I love gumbo and jumbalaya but was always too nervous to try to attempt it myself. Seeing how it all goes together, it is fairly easy.

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The swamp tour was also informative. We learned a lot about the Cajun lifestyle, and all about the different types of animals and plants that call the swamps home. Unfortunately, because it was too cold, we didn’t not see any alligators, but the scenery made up for it. It helped that our tour guide pulled out a surprise baby alligator for everyone to hold!

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When we arrived in New Orleans, we quickly found out that Mardi Gras season was starting soon, on the night of Epiphany. We had no idea, and we did not plan it that way. The events started with a Joan of Arc parade, for her 606th birthday. Joan of Arc was known as the Maid of Orleans (France.)

We got good spots for the parade right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, where we watched the blessing of Joan’s sword. The parade ended at the other end of Jackson Square, where everyone took part in eating the first King Cake of Mardi Gras. We of course had to join in on the revelry. Later that night, we saw fireworks on the river front.

We also found out that New Orleans was founded in 1718, so the city was celebrating their tricentennial. Good timing, right?

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Other highlights consisted of wandering around the French Quarter daily, the Louisiana History museum, and the aquarium. We listened to jazz music almost every night, and of course we stopped for beignets at Cafe Du Monde. We also checked out the garden district and walked around Lafayette Cemetery.

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On our way home, we visited Oak Alley Plantation. It is about an hour west of New Orleans. It was a good way to break up the drive home. Unfortunately, the big house exhibit was closed when we went, but they lowered the admission price which was good of them, and there was still so much to see. (We did peek through the windows and took some photos that way.)

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