Taking it easy in the Big Easy – New Orleans

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French Quarter

Dang, we missed Mardi Gras?  Oh well, let’s just walk around and sightsee instead. 20130304-RV-LA-22

The city of New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras, Creole cuisine,  Super Bowl XLVII, Jazz music, beignets and Hurricane Katrina.  New Orleans is also known by other names such as the “Big Easy” because of its gentle, slow and easy-going way of life.  Or the “Crescent City” because among the many bends and turns in the Mississippi River bordering the city, a small but sharp curve in the river between Esplanade Avenue and Canal Street forms a crescent. New Orleans is also simply known as “NOLA.”

The idea of driving to and parking in the city did not appeal to us, so we searched for alternatives.  We decided to catch the free ferry from Algiers Point (about 14 miles from the State Park).  After paying $5.00 to park the car at a good lot (you can apparently park on the neighborhood streets for free, but we didn’t like the looks of them), we crossed the Mississippi River to town in about 15 minutes, ending up at Canal Street.  It was a non-event, but the ferry and waiting areas on both sides of the river (Algiers Point and Canal Street) could use some cleaning up.

New Orleans

Aboard ferry with NOLA in the background

We dedicated this day to walk, eat, drink and be merry on the streets of the Big Easy.  Let’s go!

First things first, a sugar rush is what I needed before our walking tour.  Off we went to get one of those square deep fried doughnuts known as beignets (pronounced  “ben-yays”) or “French doughnuts.”  No, Steve doesn’t want anything to do with sweets.  His loss – more for me!  Next to Cafe du Monde was a store where pralines are deliberately made behind glass so you can see and smell – and oh, maybe buy some? – of the super-sweet stuff.  It’s a candy made with brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, butter, and pecans, another specialty in NOLA.  I HAD to get some of that, too!  Steve’s eyes rolled once again.

A few feet from where I was munching on my dougnuts is Jackson Square, a historic park in the French Quarter declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.  This is where aspiring artists, musicians, entertainers, horse drawn carriages, arts, mimes and  just people mingle.  We think the entertainment was fairly tame because it was still early in the day.

Jackson Square

That beautiful white building in the background above is the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of Francethe oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States.  New Orleans is instantly recognizable by the cathedral and its position overlooking Jackson Square.

The St Louis Cathedral

Inside the St Louis Cathedral

To begin processing the sugar coursing through my veins, we strolled along the Moon Walk.  Mayor Moon Landrieu installed this scenic boardwalk on top of the levee to reconnect the city to the river; it is known as the “Moon Walk” in his honor.  It was a breezy but beautiful day to stroll.

Moon Walk

At the moonwalk viewing the Century Bridge and the business district

We ended up at a floodgate and entered the French Market.

The French Market stretches six blocks, containing lots of retail shops, outdoor cafes, a farmers market and a flea market.

In the heart of New Orleans is its oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter . This district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark, and contains numerous individual historic buildings.  Strolling along the quaint streets, we noticed the stunning architecture as the dominant feature.  Some colorful homes with balconies are adorned with intricate ironwork and courtyards are filled with lush greenery.  These are the balconied homes that we saw on tv (was it Cops?) where people tossed out beads during the Mardi Gras festival 😦

French Quarter

Bourbon Street was slightly impacted by hurricane Katrina and is in the heart of French Quarter.  We walked its 13 blocks from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street.

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

While it is now primarily known for its bars and strip clubs, or “party central” in NOLA, Bourbon Street’s history provides a rich insight into New Orleans’ past.  At night this is where things get crazy and the “unique” people come out to play.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is now a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street.  Built sometime before 1772, is one of the older surviving structures in New Orleans and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States.  We stopped and got our first “Go-Cup” of Voodoo Daquiri.  It’s legal here to drink on the streets, provided the drink is in a plastic container they call a Go-Cup – no bottles or cans allowed on the streets.  It felt a little strange walking down the street with an alcoholic drink, but hey, we like to try something new each day!  So, with our Go-Cup in hand we continued our excursion.

Some of the famous names in Jazz music have their own niche on Bourbon Street, called Musical Legends Park.

Musical Legends Park

Musical Legends Park

At this point in our walk at the French Quarter we got hungry for some NOLA specialties.  Never had a Po’ Boy before, so it was a Po’ Boy sandwich and Gumbo for us, followed by another round of drinks – a Voodoo Rum and a Spicy Bloody Mary.  Whoa!

Notary in NOLAWe carried the drinks and continued our exploration.  Leaving the French Quarter, we headed toward Canal Street where the business section and hi-rise buildings are situated.  One of our to-do’s here was to look for a Notary Public.  Why?  Let me digress for a moment. This is a friendly reminder to all my dear readers to always check your credit card charges every couple of days.  Steve diligently checks our credit charges and caught several transactions charged in Pennsylvania.  He cancelled the card immediately, but to get the charges removed from our account he had to have the paperwork notarized, since we are on the road.  In this area the notaries are usually lawyers, so of course it costs much more.  Well, down a back alley we went to have the friendly lawyer do his thing. OK, back to having fun now!

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Central business district

With our business done we headed to the River Walk Marketplace.  This is a tourist trap located next to the Convention Center and the cruise ship terminal.  Since this is not shopping day for us, we instead went there to learn more about the Mississippi River.  That will be our next story.

Riverwalk

Hanging Out In Cajun Country – Sam Houston Jones State Park

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Swamp Trail

Welcome to Louisiana signThe Southwestern Region of Louisiana is known by some as “Cajun Country” and boasts both bayous and big cities.  Our first stop in the Pelican state was Sam Houston Jones State Park.  It is located at 107 Sutherland Road, Lake Charles, Louisiana at the confluence of the Houston & Calcasieu Rivers and Indian Bayou.

The landscape is obviously in stark contrast with the desert and plains of the Western states we have traversed recently, for we are now in America’s Wetland.  When we arrived, we entered a park with tree-filled lagoons and a mixed pine and hardwood forest covering 1,087 acres of land.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

We like state parks for their large spaces between sites.  But here the sites are a bit tight and narrow – not what we normally expect of a state park, and some sites were buckling due to tree root incursion.  We were actually forewarned that state parks further east are old and may need work.  But this was the first state park we have seen with full hookups and 50-amp power.  And the beauty of the park and the nice hiking trails grew on us the longer we stayed.

Sam Houston Jones State Park

The water and power hook ups are way too far from the site, but the office kindly lent us an extension cord. The park is mostly peaceful and quiet, but there was some kind of constant distant humming from a plant that got really aggravating.  The birds and the wind could not drown out that noise!

Sam Houston Jones State Park

Note how far the hook ups are.

There are three hiking trails winding through this beautiful park.  First we took the Riverwalk Trail — 1.6 miles that follows Houston river and dry cypress swamps.
River Trail
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Swamp Walk Trail — 1.1 miles around the swamp and this is where I saw my first Gator and other animals!
Baby Gator

Steve’s new screen background – this guys is so cool, and the colors around him are gorgeous!

On another day we tackled the Longleaf Pine Trail — 3-1/2 miles, then added the Longleaf Pine Extension — 1.3 miles.  Luckily on this trail we did not hear that obnoxious noise.  Instead we were in the midst of hardwood and long-leaf pine trees.
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The park is said to be located in the Central Migratory Flyway, just north of the most productive birding region in Louisiana.  Even if we were too early for the migratory birds, we did hear a lot of birds but rarely saw them – the trees are so tall!  But with patience I managed to capture the resident feathered friends.
Red-headed Woodpecker
Great Heron
Finally, we had our first taste of Cajun cooking.  We ordered shrimp étouffée and chicken and sausage gumbo from Steamboat Bills.  We can imagine ourselves gaining many unwanted pounds during the next few days we are here in Louisiana, as we savor the wonderful flavorful dishes.
Cajun Style

Upcoming stops – do share with us any “must do’s” at these locations:

New Orleans, LA

Biloxi, MS

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