Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Birmingham, AL

The hotel where we spent the night was just around the corner from the Embassy. That was super convenient. Our appointment at the Belgian Embassy was at 9.15am. The staff member was very efficient and within 20 minutes we were all set.

We proceeded our trip to Texas but first we paid a visit to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. It’s not only a museum but also a racetrack. Philippe has raced numerous times on that track through iRacing (online racing simulator). The museum, with 50+ Lotus race cars, is home to the world’s largest Lotus collection! But don’t be fooled, there is a huge collection of motorcycles (900+ at any one time and total collection 1600+) and some real gems are showcased throughout the modern concrete building. You can also gaze down over the restoration facility which is in the lower part of the building. If you want to know when the collection started or how many Harley Davidsons there are in it, visit the website here. Pictures of sports cars, bikes and the interior of the building can be admired on their website. They even suggest some scenic routes for the amateurs among us.

About the track: the 16 turn, 2.38 mile track was designed in consultation with world champion racers John Surtees and Dan Gurney. The track is also home to the Porsche Sport Driving School and a number of automakers have chosen the park for new vehicle debuts.

If you are in the neighborhood, I highly recommend this beautiful, well maintained amazing park/museum!

On our way home we just had to stop at Buc-ee’s: because Buc-ee’s puts every other gas station to shame!

 

 

Atlanta

June 2018

After having some fun in Louisiana, we left for Atlanta to get our passports because, after all, this was what this trip was all about. We drove along the coast and decided to stop at one of the beautiful beaches. The girls could play in the water and Philippe and I could have an aperitif.

25+ years ago Philippe attended a fair in Atlanta to promote his BBS software ProBoard. He then had dinner at Pittypat’s Porch. He told me about the rocking chairs on the porch and how he thought I would love them as much as he did. So it was a no-brainer to make a stop there. The name of the restaurant refers to Scarlett O’Hara’s aunt Pittypat in the movie “Gone with the Wind“. She was a gracious hostess to visitors, especially on her grand porch. Pictures of Clarkle Gable and Vivien Leigh and newspaper articles about the movie were on display throughout the restaurant. It was a neat place and the rocking chairs were very inviting.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Café Atlanta. I always like to stroll around and look for pictures of my favorite artists. Bruce Springsteen was watching every move and we even came across a picture of Willie! So, what’s not to like about HRC? We sure love it!

Laura Plantation

June 2018

After visiting the Butterfly Garden we headed out to the Laura Plantation. We wanted the girls to know about life in the 19th century and especially about the lives of slaves. The Laura Sugar Plantation seemed perfect to do so.

Although it was a guided tour and the guide did an amazing job, I wish he would have gone more into depth explaining the lives of the slaves living on the plantation. But the girls got a pretty good idea of how it was at that time. I must admit they were very quiet and bewildered about how someone could treat another human being in ways they could never imagine.

The premises were well maintained and the flora was absolutely beautiful. There was a cute little gift shop were we bought “praliné liqueur” and a children’s book called “Compair Lapin”. It’s about traditional Creole folktale featuring a mischievous rabbit named Compair Lapin. I’m looking forward to reading it to the girls as a bedtime story once school has started again.

If you are in the neighborhood, make sure to stop by. I would highly recommend this plantation.

Before leaving Louisiana and heading for Atlanta, we did get our fix of beignets though 🙂

 

Passports

June 2018

As our passports will soon expire and with Philippe traveling to Belgium in the coming weeks, we needed them to be renewed. Because there is no Embassy or Consulate for Belgians in Texas, a service is offered a couple of times a year. It basically means that you can schedule an appointment with a staff member of the Consulate General who will travel to different cities. He/she caries a mobile kit to capture biometrical data (photo, fingerprints and signature). Unfortunately, by the time we wanted to set an appointment, the flying consul’s agenda was already fully booked. So we had to travel to the nearest Consulate, in our case Atlanta.

We decided to go by car and stop on the way in New Orleans. It had been on my wish list for ages, even before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005. I was so happy we would finally visit! But as with so many things, the more excited you are and long for something, the more you could be disappointed about the outcome.

Anyway, when you say New Orleans, you say Café Du Monde and beignets. Upon arrival we saw there was a huge line and with rain arriving, we chose not to wait in line for the famous beignets, but explore the most popular streets instead. Unfortunately, the smell in the city was unbearable! We couldn’t point out what it was, something mixed with urine. According to Philippe it could be the water used to clean the streets. It was so disappointing. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything, I just wanted to get out of that stinky smell.

We strolled along Woldenberg Park and payed hommage to the “Monument to the Immigrant” because, after all, that’s what we are. We went for a walk along the Mississippi River, took some pictures and made it just in time to the Aududon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium before the rain came pouring down.

 

Almost over

Monday, January 1st, Ilona would get on the plane to be reunited with her family. But first we still had to celebrate New Year’s Eve! As it was freezing cold again, we had all day to prep dinner. Ilona and me taking care of all kind of snacks, dessert and sides dishes while Philippe was in charge of the brisket. There was plenty of delicious food! We watched some funny videos while the fireplace was crackling. It was nice and cozy and if you’d asked me the evening should never have ended. It even started to snow. Later the neighbors rang the doorbell and asked if the girls would like to have some fun with them and watch fireworks.

The next day, Ilona’s luggage was all packed and she was ready to leave the US. We had a short but fantastic week. Soon, very soon I would see her again!

Finally some nice weather

On Saturday December 30th, the weather was so nice, we just had to get out of the house. Ilona wanted to see the Austin area. What better place to start than the 360 Bridge (or Pennybacker Bridge)? It was quite a hassle to find a parking spot, but once we did, we climbed all the way up to the top. The view was stunning! There was a dj playing some music to top it all off!

She also wanted to see with her own eyes the vast expanse you see in a lot of American movies. This is something we don’t have were I used to live so we drove to the countryside. Philippe made sure we passed some pumpjacks as well. It was cool to see the jacks were actually active. Ilona was also very impressed with the huge highways. Texas is so big and has so much space to build state of the art highways with 4, 5 or even 6 lanes. In big cities, the freeway interchanges are just amazing and jaw dropping!

At the end of the day we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and to burn off the calories, we strolled Lakeway’s own trail of lights.

Shop, shop, shop…

I’m always telling my Belgian friends the weather in Austin in winter is so nice. Unfortunately, the week Ilona visited us the cold was brutal! Due to an arctic front the wind was unbearable. Although there is so much to see in and around Austin, we hardly did anything outside because of the weather. Even in Belgium and Alaska (!) the weather was nicer! Can you imagine?

There are some nice (indoor) shopping centers in the area and, luckily, we both like shopping! I also showed her our previous house in Avery Ranch where her daughter and our mom stayed 2 years ago. We also visited the Oasis Texas Brewery. There, the view of Lake Travis is magnificent. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold so we just took a couple of pictures and got back into the warmth of my car.

Another stop was the rental house in Lakeway and Lakeway’s very own airpark (who knows, maybe one day we might even buy a house close to it). I had promised Ilona to have dinner at Hopdoddy’s because they have THE best burgers! And the truffle fries are to die for!

One morning we had breakfast at Mc Arthur’s in Lakeway. Ilona wanted to try a real American Breakfast, with hash browns and sausage, bacon and eggs! Who am I to say no to such a treat? We played board games with the girls and made it real cozy with lighting the fire place and having some snacks in front of the TV.

Another restaurant we went to was Buenos Aires Cafe in Bee Cave. It’s a cozy little gem we only recently discovered. We enjoy having lunch or dinner there.

Of course she also wanted so see where I work, so we had tea and pastries at Baguette et Chocolat.