Posted in: Food, Sightseeing

Eating in New Orleans: Cafe Du Monde

I have a confession to make.

I love beignets.

We first had them in New Orleans in 2017. I’ve tried them elsewhere but they just aren’t the same. We were lucky enough to be staying in the French Quarter in 2017 and were able to walk up almost everyday to grab a bag to share for breakfast. It was delicious and messy (powdered sugar just gets everywhere!).

A staple in New Orleans is Cafe Du Monde, which serves beignets and chicory coffee. They have a few locations, but my favorite is the one on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. If you are staying in the French Quarter, it is easy to walk to and you can then grab your goodies, walk up the stairs to the right of the Cafe, and eat while enjoying the view of the Mississippi River.

The cafe has two to three lines open during the day and one line open at night. The outdoor seating was open during this visit, but there are a lot less tables (spaced out for social distancing/Covid). However, they were serving in bags, not on plates like before. The bags still had a ton of powdered sugar in the bottom though if you wanted more for dipping. I would say there was about 1/2 inch in the bag after the beignets were gone!

Beignets on a plate from our 2017 visit. Rest of the pictures from 2021.

It was $3.40 (plus tax) for a bag of 3 beignets. As of our visit, January 2021, the Cafe was only accepting cash.

Posted in: Sightseeing

Dutch Alley Artist’s Co-Op (New Orleans, LA)

While walking through the French Quarter, we stopped at the Dutch Alley Artist’s Co-Op. They had some awesome pieces in there ranging from photographs to jewelry.

I wish we had more room (or didn’t have to worry about things breaking during moves), because there were so many neat pieces in the store. Each artist had their own section/display.

Note: They did have their masks on the whole time until the picture. We stood 6 ft away and were the only ones in the store.

We had a great chat with two of the artists that were in that day, Paul and James. Paul had some great wood creations, including bow ties! James had some unique jewelry made out of records. They were really unique and bright.

Ben bought me a really cool jellyfish necklace. I need to get a longer chain for it, but it is certainly a unique piece that is unlike anything I have.

I don’t think they ship, as I didn’t see anything on their website, but if you are in the French Quarter, you should definitely check it out!

Posted in: Sightseeing

New Orleans: What a difference 4 years and a pandemic make

We first came to New Orleans for our family summer vacation in 2017. The boys were so much smaller then. The place was bustling with activity: musicians, street performers, restaurants and bars everywhere, stores with pretty much everything you could think of (food, clothes, souvenirs, etc.). It was bright and lively, with people watching as far as the eye could see.

There is an eclectic group of people in New Orleans, and I do believe there is something for everyone. If you want to party, go to Bourbon at night. Otherwise, there is plenty to see and do during the day and avoid the French Quarter (Bourbon specifically) at night. There are museums, parks, swamp and plantation tours, ghost tours, music everywhere…so many activities to keep you entertained. The food is amazing. (If you have had the bourbon shake I make at Christmas, this is where I had first had it.)

When we planned this journey, we wanted to see new places and things we had not seen before. There were a few that Ben or I might have seen, but the rest of us hadn’t. New Orleans was the exception to that. Everyone loved it and we couldn’t wait to visit again. We booked an RV park back in January 2020, before everything went crazy. We planned to stay a month so that we could be there for part of Carnival season. Although we would miss Mardi Gras, we would still hit some of the parades.

Covid of course changed all of that. Mardi Gras was cancelled and New Orleans isn’t quite the same as it was the last time we visited.

The mayor has put in place some strict Covid restrictions: Mardi Gras was cancelled, masks required indoors and outdoors (not while eating or exercising), social distancing, no live entertainment indoors, bars close at 11:00 pm, no indoor seating at bars and breweries, 25% capacity at a lot of places. I personally feel better with having a mask requirement for indoors and outdoors.

It was empty. Walking around during the week, we saw only a handful of other people. Saturday, normally a very busy night on Bourbon, had maybe a tenth of the people we saw last time. Jackson Square was once teaming with performers and artists, now only had a few. We saw a lot more closed shops than our previous visit. It was a muted New Orleans. For a town that relies on tourism, Covid seems to have hit really hard.

Ben and I were walking around the French Quarter. We bought a few postcards from one of the shops. She told us we were her first sale of the day at 1:00 pm.

We have a monthly budget and part of it goes towards giving. We decided for January’s giving to help locally in New Orleans. After seeing and hearing from local store owners how quiet it has been and how they are struggling, we wanted to use our giving budget to increase our tips and donations to local places in New Orleans.

Granted, one was June vs January, but we’ll see how busy it gets closer to Mardi Gras.

I was doing some reading and found that “the unemployment rate in New Orleans increased (from 12.4% in September to 15.2% in October) with approximately 29K people unemployed. For comparison, last year during the same time period, the total labor force was roughly 180K with 9k unemployed with an overall unemployment rate of 5.1%.” per nolaba.org.

Posted in: Costco, Sightseeing

This Blog Post Made in Texas

When I told my sister about our trip she had a lot of great things to say about Texas. She has made a few visits to Austin to visit friends over the years. One of her observations was that Texas is very proud. From our experience, she was right on. This pride is neat to see and can turn into some crazy stuff sometimes.

Texas Pride marketing is used heavily in the grocery store for things that were not made in Texas. My favorite was Louisville Kentucky Bottled Bourbon and Gin labeled as Texas Spirit Gin:

Costco

Obviously the Texas slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas,” is prominently displayed.

Other than Colorado, we have not seen a state with more pride in their flag. The Texas flag is everywhere and on literally everything.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, from the 3L soda to the size of the flags, to the display of political opinions, (Not clear on the backstory for this front yard political display, but they are not pulling any punches here) it is a larger than life state.

Large Object Series: Boots, Wooden Nickle, Beavers
Large Object Series: Belt, Cow, Spur

The only stereotype we missed seeing was anyone open carrying firearms (that wasn’t a cowboy actor). Maybe the news exaggerates this aspect of Texas or everyone here has gone to conceal carry or we just missed it entirely.

We had a great time in Texas and wouldn’t change a thing. Their pride seems to pull them together. I may never understand the draw of a HEB grocery store or wear a state flag based shirt, but I hope to visit again soon.

~Ben

Posted in: Food

Houston: Black Walnut Cafe Brunch

Nick found this cute breakfast place while in Houston, the Black Walnut Cafe. It was located in Conroe (north of Houston) by the local airport. The cafe was located on the top floor, so it was a great place to sit and watch the planes coming and going.

The pancakes were very fluffy and had a nice flavor. The breakfast sandwich had eggs, bacon cheese. It had a nice crisp to the croissant.

Tables were spaced apart for social distancing. When you get there, you went to the counter to order/pay. You received a buzzer and you were able to pick where you wanted to sit. There was also an outdoor balcony to sit at.

If you are in the Houston area, we would definitely recommend eating here.

Posted in: Christmas, Food

Cooking In The RV: Hanky Pankies

We normally make these delicious (although not exactly visually appealing) appetizers at Christmas. However, this year we didn’t make them. We were kind of missing them, as I usually only make them for parties and Christmas. We made them in the RV oven! It took a little bit longer, as my baking sheet is much smaller than the one I had at home. If you’ve never made them, they are really easy! You can find the recipe here (link to my other blog).

Posted in: Broken/Damanged Things

We Finally Have A Couch! (RV Renovations)

The RV came with a loveseat couch, which could turn into a bed. However, we really missed having a couch that we could lay down in, that could fit more than 2 people, and was comfortable.

The RV couch started off as ok. Livable but not enjoyable. Then a spring broke somewhere in the left seat cushion and we had a spring poking us in the butt. It was not something we could fix either. We lived with it for a while.

We kept putting off taking the couch out because it was a scary proposition. We didn’t know how hard it would be, where things were bolted down, etc. Finally, we took on the adventure of making the living room work better for us. At one campground in Texas, we dismantled the loveseat to make room for a futon or couch. It was pretty easy to take apart once we knew it was really just held together with some screws. No need for a saw or hammer to break it apart.

We also removed the couch side part of the dinette. We bought new foldable chairs at Costco. We had bought similar ones when we had the house and used them for extra seating when people came over. The new chairs were in a darker color, which actually worked well with the existing color scheme for the RV.

We ended up keeping the base of the loveseat, even with the broken spring so we would have something to sit on in the meantime. We moved the bench seat so it was against the window. We then fit one of the camping chairs next to it for extra seating. It wasn’t perfect but it worked ok. We also kept the seat cushion from the dinette that we removed so the kids could use it as a floor cushion.

It took us a while to find something that would fit in the space that also wasn’t very heavy. We leaned towards futons since they were usually lighter in weight and would still give us the extra bed option if we would ever need it. We also didn’t want something with arms, so that when Ben laid down, he wasn’t bunched up and we could fit more of us on the couch.

Costco had a futon that we almost bought, but it was really close on the dimensions, so we didn’t get it. We finally found a cheap futon at Walmart and decided to give it a try. We pulled everything out of the living area and brought the futon box inside in between rain showers. It was easy to put together and fit perfectly.

We’ll see how long it lasts, but right now we are really enjoying the layout and being able to spread out somewhere other than on our bed.

Top Row: Before, Middle Row: Taking it apart. Bottom Row left: After loveseat before couch. Bottom Row middle and right: with new futon.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Sightseeing

Weird Ducks in Texas

I have loved Texas so far. However, I have to say they have some unique looking animals. We did not get to see any armadillos while exploring Texas. 🙁

Longhorns are just neat to look at and their horns can be huge.

The ducks though, man, the ducks are weird looking. I’ve seen mallards and Canadian geese. But there were a few that I hadn’t seen before.

Muscovy Ducks have bumpy faces.

Black bellied whistling-ducks have long legs.

Egyptian Geese were at the KOA San Antonio/Alamo. They were pretty weird looking with the orange circles around their eyes. They are not native to the US.

Posted in: Campground Review, Holidays, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Lake Conroe Thousand Trails (Houston/Willis, Texas) Campground Review

This Thousand Trails location is located in Willis, Texas near Houston. There were RV spots (mix of pull through and back-in) and cabin rentals. The map lists tent sites, although I did not see anyone tent camping. There was also a section for long term stays. The cabins and the front RV spots looked very nice. The front RV spots were back-ins with concrete pads.

Those were not what we got. We went to check in and the Ranger (not wearing a mask) at the gate told me how full they were and was just not very welcoming. I told him we had a reservation and he pointed me to the back of the lot saying only one lane had openings. Spots back here were gravel, the roads in the back of the park were rougher (not the nice paved lanes like the front of the park), and sites were tight together. We picked our site from the few open in the lane. Driving around later, we saw other open spots that were not given to us as an option. I am not sure if it is because we are Thousand Trails members and we just get assigned the worst spots in the park and the non-members who are paying per night get assigned better spots.

Ice was sold at the Ranger station at the gate for $2.25. The campground had bathrooms and a laundry room. Washers were $1.75/load and dryers $1.50. The campground did not offer change or a coin machine. Half of the washing machines were also out of service when we were there.

There was also a single station car wash for $1 and a vacuum for $0.50. The car wash did not have any soap in it, but we could at least get some of the dust and dirt off of the truck. There was also a tire air station there.

Gate codes changed on Tuesdays, which we were not told until our code did not work.

The pool was open Tuesday-Sunday and was not heated. It was a nice sized pool with tables and chairs. The spa/hot tub was not working while we were there. It wasn’t closed off, just told it wasn’t working. There were bathrooms and two outdoor showers at the pool area.

There was a playground, a putt-putt course, tennis courts, and small basketball hoops. Across from the office/laundry/pavilion area was a small field which was nice for the boys to play ball in. Fishing was mentioned on their brochure, although the office did not sell bait. You could walk to a small beach area on Lake Conroe. The beach area also had a volleyball court and picnic tables. It was too cold to go in while we were there, but I can see it being nice in the summer.

The office was technically open, but they kept the doors locked during open hours, so you had to get their attention to get any assistance. We had some problems in the laundry room (a washer broke mid cycle) and had to get someone to help with the water that was leaking and refund the coins. The younger woman in the office was helpful with the laundry problem, but the rest of the staff seemed grumpy and not interested in interacting with anyone. The staff at the gate never had masks on, even when talking to people checking in. There was another building at the office/Pavilion that was closed for Covid.

Video: Campground Walk Through/Tour

We had decent reception with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. The water pressure did drop one day, but came back to normal in a couple of hours.

It was close to a Kroger, some fast food restaurants, and a park. Houston was about an hour away, Galveston 1.75-2 hours, Waco 2.5 hours from the campground.

I don’t think we would stay here again. Houston was not our favorite town in Texas to visit, so I don’t see us coming back to the area. Even if we did, the park wasn’t very welcoming. I think if you were in a cabin or in one of the nice front RV concrete pad spots, it would probably have a completely different feel.

SUMMARY OF CAMPGROUND:

Our rating: 2-2.5 out of 5 hitches

Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile

Laundry: Yes

Bathrooms/Showers: Yes

RV Sites: Pull through, Back-in

Pop Up Tents/Gazebos/Outdoor Rugs On-Site: Technically no, but we did see a few people put up outdoor tents.

Amenities: picnic table, fire pit/grill, cable, playground, putting area, tennis courts, basketball, dog park 

Cabins: Yes

Tent Camping: Yes

Full Hook Ups: Yes. 30 or 50 Amp sites

Pool: Yes

Food On-Site: No

Camp Store: No

WiFi: No

Accepts Mail: No USPS, $5/package from FedEx or UPS

Food On-Site: No

Fishing: Yes, no bait sold on site

Posted in: National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Waco Mammoth National Monument

I dragged Ben to see more dinosaur bones. He was thrilled. Well, not exactly since he isn’t into dinosaurs, but at least this time we could see actual bones easily.

While looking up things to see in Waco, I saw the Waco Mammoth National Monument listed. It is a relatively new part of the National Park Service, having been inducted in 2015. It was less than 10 minutes from downtown Waco, so after exploring Magnolia, we drove over. On our way to the park, we passed the suspension bridge, which we also wanted to walk across, but was currently closed.

We have the National Park pass, but you still have to pay admission to see the bones. The flyer at the desk says it is for access to the bones with a guided tour. However, there was not a guided tour, just someone monitoring the amount of people in the building. We basically paid another $20 to the city of Waco to see the site. It is a really small park with only one real walking trail and a short loop off of the main trail through the woods. Since there had been rain this week, parts of the trail were covered in water, so we didn’t get to go on the whole trail.

Ben said the molars looked like boot prints.

It was interesting, but I would not go back again, especially since we would have to pay again.