Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Orleans by Bicycle

We left Pittsburgh with two bicycles and thanks to my Aunt Angel, we were able to invest in a decent child's bike seat.  She had generously sent Truman an e-gift card to Babies R Us for his birthday at the end of February.  Little did we know just how much joy this would bring Truman specifically.  All we really knew when we headed out this day was that we wanted to use our bikes and see how Truman liked his new perch as co-pilot of his Daddy's bicycle.  After a brief consultation of our city maps we settled on checking out Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans City Park, and  the Archdiocesan Cemeteries.   Both parks accommodate bike riders.  Louis Armstrong Park is very small with beautifully landscaped grassy areas interlaced with mini ponds and waterways.  This provided an abundance of ducks to feed.  It was also a great place for a picnic.  From there the Archdiocesan Cemetery is only about 2 blocks away.  Riding to the cemetery was fairly easy, but through the cemetery proved a bit challenging.  The above ground vaults are a sight to behold.  New Orleans City Park is HUGE.  The paved bike paths are extensive.  There is a multistage playground great for a variety of ages and abilities.  And best of all, the park houses the Morning Call 24 Hour Cafe, serving hot coffee and delicious beignets all hours of the day and night.  There were a lot of great photos taken this day.  It's only appropriate to let them tell this story.

Louis Armstrong Park... 
Louis Armstrong Park Selfie.

Beautiful waterway running through the park.

Taking a break for a picnic.

Truman loving the ride.

Dad feeding ducks.  Truman feeding...Truman.

Archdiocesan Cemetery...
Above ground vaults.

Plaque for the musicians tomb.

Beautiful monument against a brilliant blue sky.

Even pyramids.

Come on Dad!  Not another picture!

New Orleans City Park...
City Park Lake.  The bike path runs along lake and beyond.

Catching some rays.

Playground Pit Stop!

Followed by Beignets and Coffee from Morning Call.  Truman can't seem to get enough.

Art Garden exhibit sign says "no bikes".  Grrrrr!

One of my favorites.

Truman could not make this man smile...though he gave it his best shot!

Lake sculpture.

Baby-wearing in NOLA!

Another lake sculpture.

Turtles all the way down.




Archdiocesan Cemetery…

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Today's Special: Catch of the Day

We have been asked a lot of questions about how we eat while camping full time.  The general assumption is that we are living on hot dogs, hamburgers, and baked beans.  This is not the case, though we do enjoy those foods occasionally.  As we travel, I will highlight our best meals and how they are prepared.  The biggest challenge to date has been living out of a cooler.  What does this mean to us…frequent trips to the store for food and, more specifically, ice.
 This was made easier during our stay in New Orleans because Bayou Segnette State Park was just a few miles from both the grocery store and an open air sea food market.  Not only did we decide to purchase a variety of local catches, but also prepare them in a way customary to southern Louisiana.  While we were here we tried our hand at cooking seafood Gumbo, gator sausage jambalaya, blackened catfish, and breaded gator fillets. Oh, and I almost forgot…frog legs!   All of which Brian cooked over an open fire. 
    After asking several locals for advice regarding gumbo bases, we settled on a box base by Zatarain’s.  We used the same brand for our jambalaya.  Apparently, no one makes bases from scratch anymore…at least not anyone we asked.  The blackened catfish was from a recipe we found online using a variety of spices we already had on hand.  The gator fillets were breaded with a Zatarain’s garlic fish fry breading.  Finally, the frog legs were made, like chicken wings, using a locally made hot sauce purchased on one of our trips in to the city.  All of the foods we created during our stay were delicious.  I personally have tried gator on several occasions while dining in restaurants, only to be disappointed.  Many times the restaurant prepared gator was chewy and bland.  The fillets Brian made actually did “taste like chicken”. 
Local fish market

Prepping for open fire cooking

Friday, March 8, 2013

The French Quarter

The agenda for the day consisted of further exploring the French Quarter, meandering through the French Market, and eating beignets at Cafe du Monde.  Our trek today would be completely on foot and shortly into our stroll we realized we must eat...NOW!  We stopped at a little hole in the wall in the French Quarter called Evangeline.  The interior of the restaurant was narrow and the walls were exposed brick.  There was a dining area and bar as well as a hallway towards the rear that opened up into a beautiful courtyard, where meals were also served.  We chose to eat inside...easier to contain our now mobile toddler.  I ordered a Mint Julep and Brian enjoyed a Bacon Bloody Mary.  After perusing the menu, I settled on the Creole Pulled Pork and Brian, the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp.  The food arrived and I must say, it was perfection on a plate.
Why yes, that is a Bacon Bloody Mary!
Bellies satisfied, we ventured back out into the streets.  Within a few blocks we found ourselves in the open air portion of the French Market.  It is best described as a cross between a farmers market and a flea market.  The food portion had a variety of local cuisine and fresh produce.  Brian spent a good amount of time test tasting N'Awlins hot sauces.  While he was off burning his taste buds, I strolled the isles of the flea market with Truman.  Booth after booth of Mardi Gras beads and Louisiana t-shirts.  Though to me it was just "stuff", Truman was fascinated by the shinny trinkets...and it passed the time while Brian shopped.  In the end, Brian settled on the Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce and some Joe's Stuff for seasoning our purchases from the local fish market.  Quite pleased with his purchases, we headed off  in search of the famous beignets.

Pretty, shinny things!

Cafe Du Monde is a cash only traditional coffee shop.  Their menu is limited to coffee, orange juice, milk (white or chocolate) and their famous beignets.  Opening it's doors in 1862, they make their powdered french donuts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week...closing only on Christmas Day.  The place was crowded and the line for "to go" wrapped around the outdoor patio and all the way to the curb.  We decided to grab take out and eat in Jackson Square across the street.  Those little deep fried pastries were delicious and the coffee was wonderfully tasty and strong.  

Jackson Square was bustling with activity.  People sight seeing and snapping photographs.  Several bridal parties trying to capture that perfect shot to commemorate their special day.  Plenty of benches for resting weary feet after hours of exploring the city on foot.  Check out what Truman really thought of the beignets.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Parakeets and Hurricanes

It was time to venture on a trip into downtown New Orleans.  The office staff at Bayou Segnette State Park had strongly recommended parking and taking the Algiers Ferry as walk on customers.  This option cost us $5 to park (cash only) and the ferry itself was free.  Well worth it, when evaluating the stress and cost of driving and parking in the city of New Orleans.  When we arrived the parking attendant advised us to hurry as a ferry was just about to cross the river.  We ran up the ramp, through the station, and onto the ferry just in time.  Shortly after securing a spot standing on the outside passenger deck, the whistle blew and the large boat began it's slow chug across the mighty Mississippi River.  It appears the hours for the ferry have changed since our visit in early March.  We were able to stay in the city much later than the hours currently shown.  This link will provide details on the Algiers Ferry.
Truman riding the ferry
Getting a better view in Dad's arms
The mighty Mississippi
The city side dock is located right next to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit here.  The facility was extremely family friendly and hands on.  The highlight of the experience was definitely Parakeet Pointe.  This exhibit is included with general admission and contains hundreds of free flying colorful parakeets in an 800 square foot outdoor environment.  Feed sticks can be purchased prior to entry for $1.50 each, but are not necessary in order to interact with the parakeets.  We had little birds literally all around us.  They were on Truman's stroller, hanging from Brian's pockets, and trying to sneak a ride in the diaper bag.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced.  Information regarding aquarium admission, hours, and exhibits can be found using the link below.
Not quite sure about the Parakeets
And parakeets in pockets 
Family photo in front of the tropical tank

After the aquarium we made our way towards Pat O'Brien's, the home of the original Hurricane.  Even though the walk from the Aquarium to Pat O'Brien's was just a few blocks our pace could best be described as a leisurely stroll.  The architecture of New Orleans is quite beautiful.  It was hard to focus on our destination.  There was so much to look at, we found ourselves easily sidetracked.  Along the way we stopped to listen to some street musicians.  After a few minutes and a quick picture, we dropped a few coins in the open fiddle case and continued on our way.
Street performers in the French Quarter 
We finally stumbled upon Pat O'Brien's, excited to finally quench our thirst with a delicious fruity hurricane and still rubber necking the sites, we nearly bumped into a burly bouncer.  He promptly directed us to enter through the courtyard.  Apparently the entrance we had found was for the bar and only those over 21 may enter via the bar entrance.  The access we needed was just around the corner.  We entered and were immediately seated.  The courtyard embodied the essence of New Orleans as well with brick walls covered with ivy, ornately railed second story verandas, wrought iron tables and chairs, and several fountains.  The place was full of people enjoying their pretty red drinks.  We ordered two and a side of fries for Truman.  We also ordered the Pasta Primavera.  The food was decent and the drinks were divine.  Check out the link for the New Orleans location.
Pat O'Brien's famous hurricanes

By the time we left the restaurant it was dark and the city's night life had come alive.  As we made our way back towards the ferry, we found the streets full of street performers, vendors, and tourists.  Tired and stuffed we boarded the boat that would take us back to the car.  We had a sleeping baby and two content parents at the end of our first day in the city.  We had hardly made a dent in our list of New Orleans exploration musts.  We couldn't wait to come back and check out more of this amazing city!
One sleeping baby
Two smiling parents

Saturday, March 2, 2013

NOLA or Bust

It was time to leave Meaher and make our way to New Orleans.  We were looking forward to our next adventure.  Our destination: Bayou Segnette State Park.

Driving the highway through the city of New Orleans was a sobering experience.  The devastation from hurricane Katrina could still be viewed.  It is hard to believe that it’s been nearly 8 years since the city was ravaged by the storm itself and then submerged due to the failure of the levees.  Driving also provided a bit of a challenge.  There was a huge population difference between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana.  The roads were very crowded.  In addition, the directional lanes were divided by large medians of grass.  It definitely took a bit of a learning curve to get used to finding a break in the median to get to where you wanted to go.

I don’t know what I expected when we selected a state park as our destination, but I was definitely surprised when we arrived to find it was simply a turn off the highway in a busy business district.  After briefly checking in at the park office, we made our way to the camping area of the park.  As we drove the road towards the camp ground the urban sights and sounds disappeared and we found ourselves surrounded by trees with nice grassy lots.  Each site had full power and water.  The campground also had two playgrounds, hot showers, and free laundry.  It was already dusk when we arrived at the site.  We set up quickly and settled in for the night.  Thus began our 14 day stay in New Orleans.