This morning I’m in Louisiana.
New Orleans to be precise – scroll down to read more about that.
Or, get straight on with an advanced Italian listening exercise, with transcript and task to help you out.
The topic is il sistema scolastico italiano (the school system).
Note the irregular gender in ‘sistema’ – it ends in ‘-a’ but it’s masculine anyway.
Like ‘il problema’, which I mentioned the other day.
Click here to get started.
So, on with the road trip!
Friday we were in Houston, Texas, remember?
We’d not heard much good about the city but at least wanted to see the Space Center, and I’d arranged to drop in on a local language school, too.
So time was tight, and unfortunately, the Space Center was on the opposite side of the city from our motel.
Houston is truly big!
Driving across it towards the Space Center, we got to see the downtown skyscrapers, which are just as impressive as you’d imagine.
The Space Center itself, when we finally arrived, was very much a family attraction. We saw the Space Shuttle mockup and took the tram tour, which culminated with a walk around a massive Saturn rocket lying on its side in a large hanger.
Finally, there was the shop. Sofia stocked up on NASA merchandise: baseball hats, t-shirts and the like.
Jumping back in the car, we drove as fast as the traffic would allow back across the city to meet with the owner of the Texas School of Languages. But even though we skipped lunch, we still arrived rather late.
By mid-afternoon we were back at the motel, rather worn out from driving around in the heat.
But after an hour or two of relax (as Italians would say) we figured we should at least TRY to see the downtown.
Back in the car, we asked Google Maps for directions to The Museum of Fine Arts.
The gallery building is impressive, especially inside.
But the collection took us by surprise. They have paintings by most of the artists I’d heard of, and many more by those I hadn’t.
Amongst the many by Italian painters were works by Guido Reni from, guess where?
After leaving the museum, we walked and then drove around parts of the downtown and museum districts.
Think parks with water features and fountains, neighbourhoods of attractive old houses, that sort of thing.
All in all, we were pleasantly surprised with our final Texas city.
For anyone thinking of following in our footsteps, don’t skip Houston – it really has a lot to offer.
Though unless you have young kids, I’d skip the space ships and spend more time with the old masters…
Saturday, we headed east, waved goodbye to Texas, and crossed the state border into Louisiana, destination Baton Rouge, the state capital.
Louisiana is a lush green.
Trees, swamps, lakes.
More trees, swamps, lakes.
Oftentimes, the interstate runs on a raised causeway with trees on either side and only water below.
Looking down, you can see people fishing from boats.
And every now and again, the whole highway passes over some enormous bridge so as to cross a wider river or deeper lake.
Baton Rouge itself is on the Mississippi River. It’s not a large city like Houson, but the downtown is very picturesque and easy to walk around.
Both the old and new State Capitols are worth a look, and present an interesting contrast…
In the evening we dined on real Louisiana cuisine at The Chimes bar/restaurant on the university campus.
Yesterday (Sunday) we drove down here to New Orleans, saw the Mississippi again, then wandered around the tourist hell-hole that is the French Quarter.
Nice architecture, interesting history, but a shame about the rest of it.
Rather depressed, we checked in to our motel and chilled (literally). Later, we set off again to look at Lake Pontchartrain, which features the longest bridge in the world, apparently.
The lake shore was breezy and pleasant. I got talking to a local family, Sofia put her feet in the water, and we felt better.
Dinner though, was a let down. Parking in the downtown is costly and, as we’d alread given, we opted for somewhere close to our motel.
There are some beautiful parks around here, nice houses too, and even a Walmart (useful for restrooms…)
But this part of New Orleans is not exactly blessed with places to eat.
The ‘excellent local food’ joint recommended by the hotel turned out to close at 4 pm on Sundays.
And so we ended up in an Italian pizza restaurant.
Sofia and I were laughing over the menu, which contained no pizza varieties that we were familiar with (not even Margherita).
But my smile faded when the waitress told me that they had had ‘problems with their liquor licence’ and so could only serve water or iced tea.
In shock, I ordered a muffuletta pizza.
It wasn’t bad, but at that moment I felt a very long way from home…
Oh well, today’s Monday.
It’s a new day, and we’re off on a Swamp Tour.
Alligators are promised!