Welcome Mr & Ms Hee-ill (New Orleans, Louisiana)

“Welcome Mr & Ms Hee-ill” was the first thing we heard when we arrived at the hotel Pontchartrain in New Orleans at about 11pm on Christmas night. Lindsay thought at first this man speaking with a Cajun/New Orleans accent was a bit exaggerated, but it turned out to be real. From now on Lindsay wants to be known by this pronunciation!

We took a 9 day trip on the 2016 Christmas holidays to New Orleans, then Ruston-both in Louisiana, and then to Maryland/Washing DC.  But I might split this little blog into 3 as each place was so interesting and diverse.

After our late arrival, we weren’t ready for sleep as the time East Coast time difference was 3hrs ahead of West Coast time, so we headed to the hotels roof top bar ‘Hot Tin’ for a cocktail (Unfortunately there was no cat to be found).  It being Christmas day, we thought we were lucky it was open. We weren’t expecting this bar, with sweeping views out to the Mississippi (well there would have been except for the low lying cloud and mist  – but we could see a big bridge), to be filled with party goers, with some even dressed in suits…on Christmas Day!! Lindsay tells a story of being overwhelmed for a moment when I went to the bar to order a second cocktail and he was set upon by three 20-something blonde southern bells on the hunt for some man flesh! Fortunately I returned to save him much to his relief, and my amusement.  After a genuinely warm conversation with these girls, they went off in hunt of some other single men.  Lindsays still recovering…and still telling the story!

Before heading to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) I had asked a few people if they could give us tips on where to stay and what to do.  Unfortunately some of it came in a little late (I hope they don’t mind, Ive added their tips at the end of this post for any other NOLA adventurers) but we got enough to set us on our way.  Our gorgeous hotel, which was reminiscent of a time gone by, was in the middle of the ‘Garden District’. Lindsay knows I love a characterful old home so after wondering along some of Magazine Street checking out the shopping (a little quiet on Dec 26), and popping into two of the many historic and fascinating cemeteries, he took me off exploring down side streets with all sorts of colourful, delectable, gorgeous old homes. From the stately antebellum mansions, to the old and rustic cottages…all colourful, and a feast for an old home junkie like me.


 
 

Later we headed to very central French Quarter which is now a tourist mecca.  It reminded  me of our time travelling around Cambodia particularly Siem Reap, both with a very strong French History. However it seems time halted in this area when in the early 19th century Napoleon sold Louisiana to U.S. The buildings have a strong French flavour but are far more  bright and colourful than anything I saw (in my short visit to Paris many years ago). I suspect the colour is due to the Spanish and Cajun influences. The buildings, pavement, everything seems as it would have been.  There are plenty of very expensive French influenced antique stores to shop in and lots of bars and restaurants, most pitching jazz and blues, and true southern delicacies.  However, Im not a fan of the heavy tourist pitch. Bourbon street specifically had a strong smell of vomit from the usual tourist fare with cheap drinks served in plastic yard glasses, and individuals attempting to peddle their restaurants fares. But the streets running parallel are definitely worth checking out, and smell quickly improves the further away from Bourbon St you get.

A friend had recommended getting away from tourist food and trying some of their haute cuisine. So Lindsay Yelped his way to Toups Meatery where we found some utterly divine, cajun influenced food and the most wonderful and friendly waitress who we for once were happy to tip.  As a side, I asked her what the large cat sized creature was, with a long think tail that had run across my path on our walk to the restaurant.  It was a Nutra Rat. I never want to see one of these again. Apparently they have nasty big teeth, equalled with a nasty big bite!

 

I’ve been told from many who have traveled to NZ, including the Aussies, that NZ does the best coffee in the world, and its available everywhere even in small towns. We’ve struggled in San Francisco to find great or even good espresso (Americans treasure their drip coffee above all else), but in NOLA it seemed there was a fairly abundant supply of good espresso coffee, though your out of luck if your after a flat white! On our final day (Actually after we’d travelled to the far side of Louisiana and back) we quickly popped out to Marigny area to see if the coffee was even better there. You see, the hipsters have discovered this area and now its an up and coming boho part of town. Where else would you expect to get good coffee? Unfortunately like San Francisco, it seems New Orleans doesn’t get going till late morning so no other shops were open, but we happened across this lovely coffee shop, where I got my morning expresso to set me up for the day.

Before leaving town we headed to the the Unites official WWII museum.  Unfortunately I was a little unwell, and we were short on time, but definitely worth a visit.

Nola tips:

Lindsay and Anna

  • Lunch – not very NOLA but very nice. La Casita, on the way if you walking  from the Garden to French Districts.  https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-casita-new-orleans?osq=mexican+food
  • Other links included in text

Linda

  • Freetoursbyfoot.com …we did French Quarter ghost tour (just ok) and the Garden District/Lafayette Cemetery tour (REALLY GOOD!…our guide was Sarah and she was great). Must reserve a space online. The organization offers free tours but asks for donations at the end.  pharmacymuseum.org -quite interesting. You can just look around, but I recommend taking the short guided tour. I think they only have a guide available for one tour per day.
  • Food: Jacques-Imos is really good and is a fun place out of the Quarter.   Coop’s is in the French Quarter. It used to be very good however the last two people I sent there said they didn’t care for it much. I don’t know if they’ve changed cooks or anything like that.  Acme oyster house is defintely packed with tourists but they are really good oysters.
  • Oh, Magazine Street in New Orleans…lots of fun shops and good food.

Charlotte – “NOLA is epic you will have an amazing time. We were there for a week and didn’t get around everything we wanted within the city limits”

  • Howlin’ Wolf Sunday night hot 8 brass band (they are in my top 3 so seeing them for $10 at their local was incredible. HW also holds comedy on a weeknight
  • Spotted Cat Club – this is a good start for music into her French quarter but most of the music clubs are quality so you just have to find what you like.
  • Gazebo Cafe in French Q. – Order the roast beef Po’ Boy
  • Whitney Plantation (we took Greys bus lines) if you book two greys bus tours you get a discount. This is the only plantation we toured. It was amazing and we were provided with a true account of the history by a historian who descends from the Israelite slaves. They provide umbrellas but they only have a few so hat and water. Probably cooler now than when we went
  • Airboat swamp tour – take sun protection and water. We went with Airboat Adventures and they were great
  • **you can get a one day plantation and a swamp tour deal, Whitney Plantation wasn’t included with a deal so we booked boat separately.
  • Buy a 1, 3 or 5 day jazzy pass for the street car up to the Garden district – wander around the mansions (they are something else)
  • Visit the Cemeterys – pay the $5tip at the gate for a tour worth it otherwise it’s just another cemetery (I was interested in the history).
  • Free walking tours in the French Q. (Pay a tip)
  • WWII museum. We aren’t really ‘military/war people. We expected to be a bit “meh” about it but ended up staying 5.5hours! Ammmmazing and a little expensive but amazing.
  • If you haven’t already download the TripAdvisor App. Save the places you want to go in the app prior to going and when you are close to one of your stored interest the app will alert you 🙂
  • The French quarter art market is nice (we spent waaaay to much money there!) as is the normal market.
  • Bourbon street is something you have to do even if only once. – buy a daiquiri and wander around the streets it’s nice because the drinking culture isn’t like oz or NZ people are more relaxed – dance! Find a night club and dance like no ones watching!

Sam

  • Once you get past the cheap local joints. Go for the nicer spots and be blown away. Catfish and crawdads are not what New Orleans are best at. Their haute cuisine is out of this world as is their jazz and blues
  • There’s gator tours and in the swamp (I didn’t do) and some good evening walking tours. Some voodoo shops are funny for their entertainment factor 🙂
  • Find good blue grass and jazz in the evenings, check out the 2 main cemeteries and surrounding plantation houses during the day
  • Food. Maybe 1 day of crawdads and po boys then get into the real diner side of south cuisine. TripAdvisor can help there

That There is Real Bear Country

…but not a bear in site? We are still pondering which Bear of the brown and the black bears you run from, and which bear you freeze for? Fortunately we didn’t see a real live bear!! Lots of taxidermy though!
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So 6 Kiwis, an Irishman, An Aussie and one token American go for a weekend in the woods! Sounds like a joke, but it’s not. Our friend Sarah’s boss had kindly leant her his cabin in the woods and said she could take up a group of friends.  So on a Friday afternoon 9 people piled into two cars, and we traversed 243 km/150 miles from the centre of San Franciso to Arnold, California. Located within the massive 900,000 acre Stanislaus National Forest, adjacent with Yosemite National Park. We seemed to spend an hour driving uphill to the cabin which sat at 4000ft/1200mtrs above sea level!

The car Lindsay and I travelled in got there late in the evening. The first group that arrived earlier in the day had already organised supplies and offered me a refreshing beer when I walked in. Pity I have never learnt to enjoy the taste of beer, after many failed attempts!
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The next day we woke up and opened our curtains to a view of a pine tree forest.
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After some discussion about the days activities we took a short drive to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where Camp Leader Sarah took us for a tramp, oops I meant Hike, amongst the giant Sequoia trees. Before departing, some of the party went in search of water to ensure they didn’t dehydrate on the trek. Here, Kurt and Tim model their Water Bottle Bags. It seems their ability to grip with their hands didn’t appear to be working.
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Before leaving, we thought about joining the forest church, but the woman leading the singing was so out of tune, we couldn’t bare the noise.
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The trees in this part of the park are so large that our group of 9 could easily fit on this stump, appropriately named “Big Stump”. img_7579

These massive sequoias only germinate when they are scarred by fire and many had burn marks up the side.  Other trees were dead, stripped of their bark though still standing.  In the early 20th century one of the trees had its bark stripped in sections, and taken on a roadshow. The bark was reassembled over and again, to show the impressive girth and height of these amazing mammoths
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It’s pretty hot in this forest at this time of year, though in winter it snows, so we decided to head off to an alpine lake for a bit of a dip and a cool down. After agonisingly walking into the freezing water up to our knees, we decided to give up on the swim. However there were some fun sights to be seen including this paddle boat swan, which also had a tiny outboard motor.  Kurt and I were so intrigued, we got a photo with it.
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Finally at the end of the huge day, we headed back to the very large cabin and Clay aka Carl, the token American, prepared dinner marinating chicken and beef to be thrown on the grill(BBQ) later in the evening.  It was a fabulous meal, with a new group of friends. The evening was finished off with board games, with Lindsay and I tucking into bed a little earlier than the more youthful members of the group, who’s ability to drink later into the evening is still peaking.
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I think the best way to tie up this post is with this short clip. Out and about tripping in this amazing forest, singing along with the great Neil Diamond. Click on the following pic to watch and laugh….be warned, have your volume turned down:
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Thank you everyone for a fabulous weekend.
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Getting Up To the Start Line

We have now been living in San Fransisco for officially one month, and it has been a larger social and cultural shift than expected, therefore taking us a while to find our feet and feel like we are getting started. Everything seems just that little bit different – from the size of teaspoons, variations in banking terms and function, tipping even when service is not good quality, sugar in bread, cheese, bacon cooked to a crisp, and so much more. But we are quickly getting our head around the way things work, thanks to the support of friends who get it.

FOOD

It seems from an outsiders perspective that Americans love their food (Don’t we all), especially meat, cheese and Bacon. So a surprising aspect of living in San Francisco was the variety of food choices.  In all honesty it was to be expected as it is a melting pot of international communities, and opens its arms to social diversity. But still it is refreshing to find that portions don’t have to be over generous, and there’s a great variety of vegetarian/vegan options (we aren’t vegetarians, but we do eat a fair bit of vegetarian and  fish). We continue to strive to find good espresso, and though it can be found, a good cappuccino seems a little elusive.  My excuse to get my Breville expresso maker!  Not one to take pictures of food, I did enjoy my lunch at Foreign Cinema in the Mission, where at night they project old movies onto a back wall.  I ordered the Duck – too pretty not to photograph.
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And if you are a meat eater who likes lots of food, you will be well catered for too!! This was shared with 5, and there were leftovers!
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SETTING UP HOUSE

We have recently moved into some short term furnished accomodation till October 23rd. Last week I realised that even though we don’t know where we will be living, I might have to organise some basic furniture. We are shipping some household goods including most of our kitchen, but we need a bed, sofa and cutlery. I’d been recommended to go to Crate & Barrel which has everything for a home you might wish for, but due to massive Labour Day sale prices, we found there would a 12-13 week lead time on what we wanted. So I let my fingers to the searching and found a Bed Frame on Etsy.
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I further trawled the internet for a couple of companies that made the style of sofa I wanted, finding three.
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The first place nearly knocked me dead with the price. The second store, Furniture Envy was so good, we put our order in – customised to how we wanted it, price was reasonable, delivery expected when we wanted! Fingers crossed it goes to order. The final item of must buy was cutlery – Lindsay noticed that U.S. standard sizes of what we might call desert and teaspoons were quite different to what we were used to.  So after hunting around and not finding what we wanted, we went back to searching the online New Zealand stores, but then buying it on sale from UK eBay which was far cheaper than anything we’d seen.  Lindsay who’s not big on spending money on household items, appeared a little relieved with that saving. And thats the end of the spending on the big stuff until we have recouped our costs from paying massive bonds on our current and next rental properties, and the first months payment in advance. We did go to the Alameda Point Antiques Fair, a HUGE antiques fair that occurs on the 1st Sunday of the month, with my mother who was visiting on her way back to NZ from visiting my bother in Sweden.
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Mum did try to get me to buy some of the fabulous goods on sale, but alas failed due to this shut down in spending till moved into our next more permanent apartment.  That’s okay – It happens every month, and I’ll be back once we’ve moved into a more permanent home!!

OUT & ABOUT

When we’re not buying furniture, or eating, then I/We are out and about, exploring the city.  This has been made simpler for me with the introduction of Hildegarde.
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Lindsay has been leant a road bike from a tall friend whilst he waits for his touring bike to arrive in shipping, but it needs a little alteration before he can reach the pedals!

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A colourful Dragon on display outside the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

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Loving the green pergola

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Looking back at AT&T Park, the home of the Baseball Giants

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Colourful crossings in Castro

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The stunning views out over SF

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Exploring Golden Gate Park – I’ve got so much still to find

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A stunning green park in the middle of very parched and dry SF

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Day time and night time views of the Bay Bridge.  I haven’t yet made it around to the Golden Gate Bridge since we arrived. In the next week I hope.

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A caravan park – with permanent parks….Sunnyvale, further down the Bay

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An art fair in Palo Alto. These artists displaying their craft on the streets

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Twitter: And the heart of Twitter that flashes on and off – apparently every time a tweet is completed.  And an original antique cabin, disassembled, shipped and reassembled inside the Twitter offices!  Best thing about Twitter – their chocolate!!!

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A dress we’re considering purchasing from Valentino…hmmmm! Let me think!

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Apple Love – Art out the back of Apples Union Square store.  Thanks to Lisa Halford and a little exploration.

Auckland City by Bicycle

Its Easter Sunday and one asks themselves “what shall we do when all the stores in Auckland are closed and half the city has left town for a relaxing four day weekend?”  We’d already agreed to head out for a Sunday morning cycle, and after seeing the lights of amusement rides somewhere in Auckland City as we drove over the harbour bridge yesterday evening, we decided thats where we would head.

So after Lindsay hauled my butt out of bed at the unreasonable time of 8.00am on a Sunday morning in the midst of a four day public holiday, I got our gear and myself together and Lindsay took the dog out for a quick walk.  Then with Lindsay the navigator in the lead we wound our way through the back streets of the burbs checking out the latest properties to jostle for the real estate buyers prepared to pay top dollar. Onto the main roads noting the latest polished concrete cafes with the coolest hipsters who seem to have been purposefully placed in the window front to show how contemporary their establishment is.

We tooled through the backstreets of Auckland city, in the areas that once upon a time you wouldn’t go down in the clear light of day.  Now the streets that ten years ago courted prostitutes have pedestrianised roads, stylish bars and shop fronts inviting in locals and tourists alike.

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Over the last five years my nights out on the town have most certainly come to a grinding halt, and since finishing with my corporate job Ive lost touched with the city landscape. And it appears things have changed quickly, so as we wound ourselves through Britomart I marvelled at the new Britomart Pavilions which have now been added to the ever improving Central Auckland Transport Hub. They seem to have developed so quickly and contain all manner of high quality fashion stores,  eating establishments and cool out door areas to relax in.

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From there wI followed Lindsay as we headed north west along the city’s waterfront. We cycled up and down the various piers which are now home to a variety of establishments which today included amusement park rides and side shows beside the Cloud Pavilion, a temporary establishment where Aucklanders gathered to celebrate the Rugby World Cup.  Unfortunately the huge, brightly lit super cruise ship that we’d seen from the harbour bridge the night before had sailed, but it was a pleasant ride with the sun peeking through and the odd tourist ambling about.

We rode through the viaduct and across the draw bridge that now connects the separate sides of the viaduct harbour where tourists and locals alike gather to wine, dine and watch the array of super boats that moor in this ever changing part of the city. On the other side  of the draw bridge we rode through the recently established Wynyard quarter which used to be a short walk from our old home.  Even this landscape has vastly changed in the eighteen months since we lived her.  The dirty old silo’s and crumbling empty blocks are now being filled with buildings designed to breath a fresh air into the area, and the Silo’s are being decorated in all manor of styles with the area now representing a boho kind of cool in the inner city.

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From there we found the second half of the Easter amusement park, and Lindsay reminisced about the fair ground ride pictured that he seems to think might be the same ride he took some twenty years ago.  My memories of it aren’t to pleasant as Lindsay likes to tell people that I get sick on a Merry Go Round!!!

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On this rediscovery of the inner city, we finally cycled over to the Victoria Park Markets which are currently in the middle of an overhaul.  They are starting to sparkle again and there’s a bit of hope that this precinct will pick up once development is completed. There’s now a mixture of contemporary cafes amidst the old stores that still sell all types of smoking paraphernalia, hair braiding and hippy fashions.

Across the road the historic Birdcage pub is now back in place after it was shifted back about twenty meters to allow building of an underground motorway tunnel.  It was placed back on its new foundations where it has stood for 100 plus years, and it has now been stylishly redecorated and is open for business.

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So then all that was required was to cycle the long slow ride up franklin road and along Ponsonby road which is once again a forever changing landscape with hip new furniture and clothing stores, and eateries opening all the time.

Lindsay talked of a time when he lived in the city as a student and was starting out his career, when there was barely a store to pick up even the lightest of refreshments.  A city on the edge of an amazing harbour that had for a time lost itself.  Now we both feel proud that our city is an exciting and interesting place to visit and there is such a variety of places to visit and things to do.  I think we might leave the city cycle for another year or so and see whats popped up then.

We finally tooled back through the suburbs, to discover our favourite coffee shop ‘Urania’ was closed. Instead we picked up some hot cross buns at the little french bakery around the corner from home, and headed back to a very excited Samson who’s always happy when we get back home.

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I’m never throwing another party!!!

“I’m never drinking again” usually follows this statement, but this year was different much to the surprise of my beloved.  You see, he’s now been around for a few events that I’ve put together, and they usually take a lot of energy and anxiety, climaxing in a great night.  This is usually followed by what many would consider a rather messy house…and that’s without mentioning that cleaning up with a hangover is no better in my late 30’s than it was when I was just a young thing!

But this year was different.  This year the theme was the 90’s, an era in which both Lindsay and I experienced out youth. It had been our time to experiment with bad fashion, alcohol and to push the boundaries of our age.  And because it was the 90’s, we decided to reminisce by throwing the party in the garage.

Much to Lindsay chagrin I once again hired a mirror ball. An eager friend offered to put together a ‘best of the 90’s’ play list.  And in the final week we could be found madly dashing about picking up quality plastic cups (Id usually hire good glasses but not for this bash), costumes and purchasing the tipples of our youth – Southern Comfort, Double Brown beer and medium white wine in a box, aka ‘vin du cardboard’.

Lindsay had decided that we needed to go as a famous couple of the 90’s and in the end we settled on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.  Okay, so not in the best taste, but it sure had people in fits of laughter.  One group of male friends decided to join us as the Golden Girls and of course that caused a bit of an uproar on the dance/garage floor.  We were also graced with the presence of characters such as Britney Spears, Peter Pan and Wendy, and those who had dug deep into their wardrobe to find a delightful display of 90’s regalia.  A giant sized penguin that apparently wasn’t Pengu also joined us. He’d been drinking at the cricket all day so it seemed a sensible choice.

Monica and Bill.

Monica and Bill.

The Golden Girls...even includes one girl!  Check out the plate on the car.

The Golden Girls…even includes one girl! Check out the plate on the car.

The night went off with a bang.  The weather was perfect, the music rocked and the array of tacky nibbles that everyone had bought along did its best to line the tummies of those over indulgers.

The night came to an end without to many issues and only one neighbour asking us old timers to turn the music down (Hint: always invite the neighbours).  With friends staying over, the clean up in the morning was easy and no sticky floors to contend with, just a sweep out of the garage.  And it turns out that drinking all those cheap sweet tacky tipples has less of an effect than it did in my youth.  When all was done, and we sat down to a cup of coffee and a big breakfast at a local café I could say ”Yeah, maybe we will do it again”!

A couple of ol rockers...check out that ancient cellphone!!

A couple of ol rockers…check out that ancient cellphone!!

Now that one truly poofed backcombed fringe

Now that one truly poofed backcombed fringe

Courtney Love, Peter Pan and a Penguin

Courtney Love, Peter Pan and a Penguin

A few ol rockers....the rest of the party were too old to dance!!

A few ol rockers….the rest of the party were too old to dance!!