Lee and I are not really “big city” people, but through our lives we have visited most of the major ones with the exception of New Orleans. So when we changed out plans to meet up with Dave and Sharon in Bayou Segnette State Park, 30 miles away from the city, we knew we would take at least one day there. I had heard about the park from Kelly and Bill who in turn learned about it from Deb and Steve and wow, was it a great choice. At $28 a night it was a little on the high side, especially considering there’s no sewer hookup (there IS a dump station) but the park and campground itself are very nice. They have free Wifi (pretty weak signal), large sites, and numerous other features including free laundry, wave pool (opens after Memorial Day), nature walks, marina, and bath houses. Since it was only 1 hour from Pat and Bridget’s we arrived pretty early, dumped, and settled into our site (130) which backs up into some swamp. This time of year the weather has been absolutely beautiful, high of 80’s in the day with cool nights and relatively low humidity so we sat outside and listened to all the noise on the bayou. Crickets, cicadas, frogs and tons of birds chorused us in the mornings and at nights and after hearing lots of rustling in the trees behind us we discovered a beautiful nesting pair of Yellow-crowned night herons, which we spent quite a bit of time taking pictures (through pretty dense foliage) in our “back yard.”
Sunday, we spent the day in the park just hanging out and it was immaculately tended with the only exception being our fire ring. Once again we had some trash in it (two beer cans and a piece of rope) and unfortunately when I reached in to pick up a beer can to clean it out the beer can was full of fire ants which swarmed me!! I have been VERY careful about fire ants as we travel, meticulously avoiding their dirt mound nests, but I just didn’t see them on the can. So I was bit, several times, which was a first and for those who haven’t experienced it…not fun. They are tiny, bite hard, and some of the bites quickly form a small blister which itches and hurts. Luckily, I got most of them off me quickly, but did end up with some swelling on my hand and a particularly nasty bite on the top of my foot which was still slightly swollen three days later. I called Bridget (who taught biology and chemistry and lives in the area) and she told me the quick swelling was normal and to use a topical analgesic to help with the itchiness and stinging. She also made sure I wasn’t having too severe a reaction (which I wasn’t), since occasionally people do. Anyway, I was fine, but wanted to mention it since if you are from the north (like we are) it is probably not something you are very familiar with. The thing to look for are mounds of dirt or sand with teeny, tiny red ants in them or in this case, be careful of trash lying on the ground.
We planned our visit to NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) very carefully on Sunday. There is a ferry that crosses into the city, not that far from us, and most people park there ($5 on regular days and more during special events), ride the ferry ($2 per person), and then walk or take the trolley once they hit the city. We could have taken this route, but instead chose to drive. (I think if I went again I would take the ferry instead, since everything you want to see is relatively close together and the experience of the ferry and trolley would have been fun in and of themselves.) Knowing parking would be a challenge, we decided to leave early Monday morning in the hopes that it would not be a busy day. It was a good call. We got downtown around 9:30 and found some free parking on the street in our first stop, The Garden District. It is unlikely though we would have found that parking, especially for our truck, later in the day. Then we moved the truck down closer to the french quarter and again, because it was early, found a spot but it cost us $25 for 9 hours. Not terrible by big city standards but not cheap either.
We wanted to start at the Garden District rather than just hit Bourbon street, because I wanted to see the area Anne Rice had written about. We have visited many places our favorite writers used as backdrops over the years, Bangor, ME (Stephen King), Prince Edward Islands (Anne of Green Gables series), and more recently Charleston, SC (Pat Conroy) and it rarely disappoints. A good writer can really make you feel like you know a place already and I felt like I knew the Garden district through her writing. Since Anne Rice writes about vampires, the very first thing I wanted to see was one of the old cemeteries. I wasn’t particular about which one, and with sheer dumb luck we ended up parked on the street right next to Lafayette Cemetery Number 1 right outside the garden district. We have visited numerous graveyards during our travels, but I have never felt as unsettled in one as I did in New Orleans. They are extremely old, above ground, and the walls surrounding them have bodies in them as well. Let me just say I am glad we weren’t there at night. Everyone should see them at least once, but we didn’t linger.
After the cemetery we walked around the Garden District. I definitely recommend it, but it was nowhere near as cool as Charleston, even on the side streets which we spent most of our time on. Many of the older homes on St. Charles have been torn down and replaced by condos and what it was really missing was the elaborate gardens of Charleston. Still it was a pleasant walk and we did get to see Anne Rice’s old house which is now owned by a convent.
After finding parking, we started to aimlessly wander heading vaguely towards Jackson Square. Normally I do a ton of research, but since I was just trying to get the feel of the place intentionally did not. Plus from the way people talk about it it’s all good food and good music. I would say this was not the best approach. I wish I would have been more targeted about what I wanted to see, because it was a lot of walking and the different sections of the French Quarter are very different. I also think I missed a whole chunk with this approach, which kind of bums me out since I don’t think we will be in a hurry to go back anytime soon.
Jackson Square itself was great though. Tons of street artists, a beautiful catholic church which you could go into, and lots of shops and restaurants. We liked it early in the day, but when we returned later in the day it was uncomfortably packed with people. Cruise ships are landing in New Orleans now and we saw lots of big tour groups along with so many visitors for a Monday! Still I thought it was neat and liked the vibe.
After seeing the square, we wandered off down some side streets and some of them we really liked. The alleys are narrow and most places have second story balconies so there is always shade and lots going on. We saw several street musicians, mostly young kids, but none of the classic jazz music I had heard about. Could have been the time of day, where we were, or the proximity to the music festival, but it was definitely not what I thought it would be. Research would have helped in this case, but it was fun and I like the flowers.
Ah Bourbon Street. Well first off let me say if you visit New Orleans and go straight to Bourbon street and then leave you are really doing yourself a disservice. I really didn’t like Bourbon Street at all. It’s a particularly narrow street and the smell of garbage, even on a relatively cool day, was over powering. I can’t imagine it jam packed with people, because my claustrophobia really kicked in. It looks and feels like a bar street in a college town and it’s really not our thing. The only thing a little neat about it was a couple of “Voo Doo” shops, but we spent as little time on that street as possible.
By this time we were hungry but the section we were in didn’t look like it had places I would want to eat end. I had read you can’t eat a bad meal in New Orleans but that really isn’t true, and we should definitely have researched a place to eat lunch. We ended up back in Jackson Square and ate at Monty’s on the Square.
So the New Orleans meal I had been wanting to eat did not live up to it’s press. The service however was outstanding and you couldn’t beat the location and at $40 it was reasonably priced for a city meal. Definitely worth a return visit at some point to one of the better reviewed restaurants in the area, but I would definitely go with someone who ate there frequently. After lunch the streets were really getting busy so we decided to wander back to the car. Huge crowds are definitely not our thing and turned the charming features of the narrow streets into a bit of a claustrophobic mess. As we were walking out, we went up on the hill behind the square and looked into the water. That was pretty and we saw New Orleans Famous Beignets which did not have a huge line. Have to do it right, and boy are we happy we did. It was cash only, $3 for three big beignets and they were hot and really delicious. Watching Lee eat them was a food porn experience and one of the best parts of the day 🙂
So we left by 2:30pm and were done with the town. Not that we wont ever go back, but it will definitely be with someone who knows the city or better armed with specific things we want to do. We would never go during Mardi Gras, and have no interest in going at night, but hey that’s just us. However you decide to visit the city , I do recommend doing some research before you go.
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