Posted in: Food, Sightseeing

Eating In New Orleans: Toast

We found this awesome breakfast place called Toast. It is by the French Market in the French Quarter, which gives it a nice view and the opportunity to people watch.

Everything was delicious. It was a chilly morning, so Ben and I started with coffee and we got the boys hot chocolate. We picked 4 items from the menu and shared between us, so everyone got to try the different foods. We ordered chicken and waffles (it came with a delicious container of Cajun butter), a savory Florentine crepe, Aebelskivers (puffed pancakes) with chocolate sauce, and coconut cream stuffed french toast.

The puffed pancakes were little round balls of fun, and tasted like…well, pancakes. The crepe had a lot of flavors going on and was the most savory out of the things we ordered. Chicken and waffles are always a hit with our family. The Cajun butter was a nice surprise, not very spicy, just enough to add flavor and cut down on the sweetness. I think they used white and dark meat for the chicken. The stuffed french toast was huge. The macadamia nuts added a nice crunch and texture. I enjoyed it even though I normally don’t like coconut. It was a very sweet dish though.

Our waitress even brought us to-go coffees, which was super nice on a chilly morning. I would definitely recommend eating here!

When we eventually get more storage room, I may give making the Aebleskivers (puffed pancakes) a try. There is a special pan for them and I found a couple of recipes online (Recipe 1, Recipe 2).

Posted in: Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

River Plantations of New Orleans

New Orleans is on the Mississippi River and has some great water views. We frequently sit on the benches near the French Quarter and watch the river and the ships that go by.

Along the river you can also find several plantations (conveniently called the River Plantations), that are open for tours. We did not take any tours this time, just drove by each one. Unless you book with a tour group, each plantation tour is a separate cost. It would have been roughly $70 for the four of us at each location, which was a little more than we wanted to spend. The last time we were here, we did take a tour of Oak Alley Plantation. It is a gorgeous home and the live oak trees lining the walkway are amazing.

Images from our Oak Alley Plantation tour in 2017
This one was right next to a Marathon plant!

We drove by Destrehan, San Francisco, St. Joseph, and Oak Alley plantations. Some of these have been kept up a little better than the others. They are all gorgeous homes though with different stories to tell. If you are in New Orleans, I would tour at least one of them. They are very interesting pieces of history.

Video of the drive.

Posted in: Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Staying On Bourbon Street, New Orleans: Four Points by Sheraton, French Quarter in New Orleans

We mostly enjoyed walking Bourbon Street during the day. Even with the COVID restrictions, it still was busier at night. One of Ben and my “bucket list” items was to attend Mardi Gras. We lost this opportunity, but wanted to make the best of it and still experience Bourbon at night. We also didn’t want to be in the midst of everyone down in the street.

Images on Bourbon during the day. Not quite the Scooby I remember 😂

We were lucky enough to book a hotel room on Bourbon Street at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel had most of the 2nd floor under renovations, so we were on the third floor. We did have our own balcony (some of the rooms share a balcony). The rooms currently did not have a mini fridge or microwave with Covid being cited as the reason. Our room had two double beds (doubles or Kings only).

It was nice to have an unlimited hot water shower. The bathroom consisted of a sink, the toilet, and the shower/tub.

The room was pretty standard, I feel like you were paying mostly for the location. There was a closet with a luggage rack, a chair at the desk, two double beds (a little softer than I like and feather pillows), and an ottoman tucked under the shared nightstand. There was a TV as well, which the boys enjoyed. The balcony had two chairs with double doors that opened into the room. There were no screens on the doors, so in the summer I imagine the bugs could be a problem. The pool was open, but it wasn’t heated, so it was a little chilly for us. There was also a Grab & Go Breakfast option, as the sit-down dining was closed. Breakfast was not included in your stay.

Bourbon Street picked up a little on the weekends, and last weekend (1/16/21) was busier than we had seen it this month. (Still not as busy as it was in 2017.) Bars closed at 11:00 pm, so about 10:00 the lines started getting longer to get in. The one right across from us was doing temperature checks to get in. We walked around and got back to our room about 4:00 pm. Our our way back to the hotel, we only saw about 60% of the people out wearing masks. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of mask wearing as the night progressed.

Pool and elevator

We saw some crazy stuff: horses on Bourbon Street, a guy dancing on a trailer bed. There was a drum band next to the hotel, and later a religious group complete with a cross came to stand by the hotel as well. After the kids went to bed, we did see it get a little rowdier.

Pano view from balcony, street performer, horse group, cross bearing religious group, crowd watching drummers

The party is still going on in Bourbon, although maybe not a large of a group. VIDEO: Views From Our Balcony On Bourbon Street

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, Sightseeing

Audubon Park in New Orleans, LA

We wanted to get out and take a walk, so we started looking for local parks. We found Audubon Park. There was on-street parking, and their website states there is a parking lot as well. You can also take the St. Charles Streetcar to get to the Park. The park had a a golf course, a great walking/biking trail. There were a few shelters and spots to have a picnic. There was a pond as well, but no fishing was allowed. It sits next to the Audubon Zoo and also across from Tulane University. The park itself was free, but the Zoo and golfing do cost extra.

Restrooms were also hard to come by if you are not familiar with the park. Shelters 10, 11, 12 are listed as having restrooms. (Two of which are on the same side of the park.) The men’s restroom was closed at Shelter 10 and while the women’s was open, it was missing toilet paper in some stalls and was ok in terms of cleanliness.

We really enjoyed walking around the park and seeing the huge live oak trees. We stopped at the Tree of Life (Note: It’s on the zoo side, not the golf course side, so we had to cross the road to get to that part of the park). It was planted around 1740! The tree was amazingly large and very neat to see.

We also saw The Labyrinth while we were on that side of the park. It is a two part maze, but is built into the ground, so there is no getting lost! We had a kind of sunny day, so it was a little hard to see the different colors of the bricks marking the path.

Video: Walking the Labyrinth

While walking around the pond, we saw a few different types of birds that were new to us as well.

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: 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