Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Food

Eating New Orleans: Willa Jean Restaurant

We saw some amazing breakfast images online of the food at Willa Jean and wanted to give this restaurant a try. We went early in the morning on a Sunday. It seemed like all available parking nearby were paid spots. We found a pay lot just a block down.

The inside was really cute and had a great atmosphere. My favorite decorations were the lights that looked like egg whisks. However, while the indoor seating was spaced out more than what they probably usually are, it was not quite 6 feet apart. We were seated inside, but a nearby table had someone coughing several times. There weren’t any seats open further away from him, so even though I got an eye roll, I asked to be seated outside. The restaurant had part of the street outside blocked off for some outdoor patio seating. The outdoor tables did not have table service. You ordered at the inside counter and they would call your name at the front door when your order was ready.

The chicken sandwich was by far the best. It was delicious and had a little bit of a kick to it. The sausage egg and cheese sandwich was good, but very messy with a runny sunny side up egg. The hangover bowl was ok, the grits were a little bit…chunkier…more textured…than what we were used to. The key lime pop tart was also a winner. I normally don’t like key lime, but this was subtle, more of a tart citrus taste. The pop tart shell had a flaky texture that reminded me of a puff pastry.

I am glad we tried the restaurant. However, I would not order the coffee again (expensive for the size) and would stick to the pastries and the amazing chicken sandwich.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, School, YouTube Video Link

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and Fontainebleau State Park

One of the things we wanted to see while in New Orleans was the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It holds the Guinness World Record of the longest bridge over water (continuously).

There was a toll on the north side of the lake heading south (back to New Orleans) for the bridge. The toll was $5/2 axles, or $3 if you had a toll tag. You could also take a different highway home to avoid the tolls, but it does add additional time to your commute.

When we went, it was a little overcast and cloudy. Luckily there wasn’t too much traffic on the bridge. The causeway has two bridges, one going North and one going South. Each side had two lanes. Around the middle of the bridge, there was a drawbridge to allow water traffic through, although we did not see it in action. The drive was fun. We saw a few birds roosting and a few motor and sail boats out on the water. At one point, we couldn’t see land in either direction! Lake Pontchartrain is large at 629 mi² and 39.77 miles in length, but averages only 12-14 feet in depth. VIDEO: Driving On Lake Pontchartrain Causeway from New Orleans to Mandeville (South to North)

Although the drive itself was our mission for the day, we also stopped at Fontainebleau State Park to stretch our legs. Admission was $3/person (daily), not the normal per car fee. The park had several offerings: campground, cabin rentals, playground, beach, walking trails. We headed to the Visitor Center first and learned some interesting information about the park. It was at one point a sugar plantation and was named Fontainebleau by its owner after a park in France. Located in front of the Visitor Center were the remains/ruins of the sugar mill. They were fenced off with a short picket fence, but they are in bad shape, so be careful walking near them. The Visitor Center had a campground map that had a park map printed on the backside. The Visitor Center was smaller, but worth a stop if you are in the park.

The windows looking out had an etching of the sugar mill. It is a little hard to see in the pictures though.

We drove down to the beach and it looked like a soft sand. There were alligator caution signs throughout the park. The beach also had a nice large parking lot, several picnic bench areas, and a large building with changing stalls, showers, and bathrooms. There was also a pier you can walk out onto, located at the beach area.

Walking trail to Marsh Boardwalk

It was a little muddy, so we only took the shorter trail near the beach area to the marsh boardwalk. We saw a few birds and ducks, but no alligators. It was a nice enough park, but I wouldn’t go back for more than one visit with the entrance fee. I would definitely prefer to go Barataria Preserve to get a look at bayou type of areas. However, their rental cabins did seem nice and were right on the water, so it would be a nice place to stay. (Click here for my Barataria post.)

Fontainebleau Park Details:

  • TICKETS: $3 per person for daily pass
  • PARKING: Lots of parking at beach, Visitor Center and near trails
  • BATHROOM: Yes, at Visitor Center and Beach
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Information Links:

Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, Sightseeing

Woodlands Conservancy

New Orleans is great for outdoor activities, which we tend to gravitate towards. Not only do the outdoors give the boys a chance to wear off some of their endless energy, but it helps keep us active while being able to socially distance during these COVID times.

We have found a lot of parks near the city. Some of them are walking distance depending on where you are, and some require a drive to get to them. The trails have varied from dirt to wood boardwalks to paved paths. One of the last parks we explored was Woodlands Conservancy. It is tucked between two schools off of a dirt road. There is a faded sign as you get closer, but we missed it the first time we drove by. The park has a couple of walking trails and one horse trail.

We got there a little late in the day, so we only took the Uplands Trail, which is a little over a mile long. It had rained earlier in the week, so it was pretty muddy in spots (all the trails are dirt). We saw a few animal tracks in the mud and found a tree swing in a clearing.

There are ten WWII ammunition magazines at the end of the Bottomland Trail! I am hoping that the weather dries out and we can hike to go see these. That trail is 5-6 miles long, so doing that in the mud does not sound fun.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, Sightseeing

We Found Crescent Park! (French Quarter, New Orleans, LA)

Crescent Park is located near the French Quarter, right on the Mississippi River. The park is a little over a mile long. One of the entrances is by the French Quarter Market; it is tucked behind a wall, on the other side of the train tracks. If you are anything like us, you probably walked right by it and didn’t even realize it was there. There is also a parking lot at the other end of the park.

Two of the bridges you can use to access the park. The tall cement one has an elevator and stairs, and is by the French Quarter Market.

The park has several tables and chairs, lots of lawn space for a picnic, great views of the river, and a dog park. There were a lot of runners, bikers, and roller skaters. There is a large covered concrete pavilion of sorts on the French Market side where kids were practicing their on bikes and roller skates.

Foggy morning. Same views: top picture is at the beginning of our walk, bottom is at the end.

It was extremely foggy when we got to the park. We were standing on the walkway right next to the Mississippi River and couldn’t see the water, much less the city. Eventually it started to clear up. Towards the end of the park, the skies were pretty clear and blue, but on our walk back there was still some fog closer to the city.

It was a really nice walk and we enjoyed the park. It seems like it would be a nice green space to walk and enjoy some beignets. 😉 (Note: It would probably be pretty hot in the summer, as there were trees by part of the path, but it didn’t seem like they would really provide shade for the trail.)

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, Sightseeing

New Orleans: City Park

City Park is a pretty large park. You can drive and park there, or take one of the streetcars.

The park has a lot of things to do! Free things include playgrounds, walking trails, and picnic tables. Paid items include: Storyland park ($5.47, under 36″ free), Art Museum, Besthoff Sculpture Park ($5/adults, 19 and younger free), City Putt (starts at $10/ages 13+, $8/ages 4-12). There were also soccer fields, tennis courts (reservations/fee), and a dog park (permit required).

We really enjoyed walking around the park under the Spanish Moss.

On our last visit to the Park, we explored the Couturie Forest. It does not have a large parking lot, so you may have to park farther away. There is a little library nearby and a creek with a bridge to cross over. The trails are dirt/mulch. We did get to complete the arduous climb to the highest point in New Orleans: Laborde Mountain. It is a whole 43 feet above sea level! There were even chickens roaming around.

Walking around Couturie Forest: Trees, platform at top of Laborde Mountain, wild chickens, stick shelter, ibis

I would definitely get a copy of the park map on your phone before you go! It is a large park and we did not see a lot of signs with a map on them. It is a nice park to spend the day at.

Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Confederate Memorial Hall Museum

One of the reasons for going on this trip was to learn/see new things and to expand the boys’ views of the world. We wanted them to be able to think and research, listen to both sides, and come up with their own conclusion, to not just take everything at face value.

And so we found ourselves one Saturday morning at the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum.

The museum is in a really neat building and is the oldest continually running museum in Louisiana.

DETAILS:

  • TICKETS: Due to COVID, you need to email the Museum to make a reservation for the day/time you want to visit. You pay for your tickets once you arrive ($10 adults, $5 kids ages 7-14). It was only open Thursday to Saturday when we were in New Orleans.
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots
  • BATHROOM: Yes, downstairs
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours

The museum is on the main floor of the building, with the bathroom downstairs. They had some neat pieces of history on display. It was mostly reading with one video. There was a small gift shop as well.

We started on the left side of the museum and one of the first exhibits we saw contained a Dix! New Orleans has history to the city. Being on the water, the city had plenty of trading with ships coming and going. At one point, the city was separated into French and American sides. Canal Street separated the French and English speaking parts of New Orleans. Each side had their own currency (French bills and American/English). Per our tour guide at Sazerac House, people met in the middle of Canal Street to do business, as it was considered neutral ground. One bank there decided to create a new currency, the Dix (French for 10). It was printed in English on one side, French on the other, and was a $10 bill. It later was nicknamed a Dixie, and hence the name for the South was created.

Battlefield trees with shrapnel embedded
Top: Uniform and gloves of Daniel Merwin. He lost his right arm in battle. His “Invalid Fork”, and 2 Left Hand gloves. Bottom Left: Sucession Badge image.
We find the mention of Ohio in the strangest places.
Different artillery shells.
Silver crown given to Davis, link of chain (boats), Stonewall Brigade Medal, Seal of the Confederacy

It was interesting to see this perspective on the Civil War. There were some signs that definitely had a Southern slant to the way they were worded. There was no real addressing the issue of slavery, it was mostly facts and information about battles, soldiers, and Jefferson Davis. It did give us a few good talking points to go over with the boys.

The gift shop was an interesting mix of wooden toys (chess board, 9 pins, chalkboard, Jacob’s Ladder etc.), hats and t-shirts, patches, stickers, quill pens, and the Confederate flag.

Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve: Chalmette Battleground and Cemetery

Chalmette Battleground and Cemetery is another part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. When we were there, the Visitor Center was only open on the weekend. The park itself was open until 4:00 pm most days.

It is a battleground site. This was our first battleground visit on our trip. There is not a lot to see: a Visitor Center, the obelisk monument, a memorial urn statue, and a plantation house. If you climb the levy, you can look at the river. There is a nice paved walking trail around the monument to the house. There is also a driving path (I did see lots of people walking it too) that leads further back on the battlefield and to the cemetery.

Pano of the Park grounds

The Rodriguez Plantation house is still on the property, although the second story staircase is gated off with a danger sign. We saw that the second story balcony was missing several boards.

The Park’s grounds also contain a National Cemetery, although only 4 from the War of 1812 are buried there. I didn’t know until after our visit, but there is also an audio tour available by calling on your cell phone (number is 504-799-0803 per their website) and there is also a virtual tour.

Cemetery: Can be accessed by walking or driving on the “self-guided driving” path

As a side note: Will saw one of the paintings featured on an informational plaque at the park in his history textbook. He thought it was pretty funny that the image included in his textbook had a National Park Service plaque memo that the image was inaccurate, as the river “was not crowded with ships during the battle”.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Louisiana, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park: Barataria Preserve

SUPER BONUS – Brought to you by the National Parks. Call (504) 799-0802 and learn about the Barataria Preserve.

We wanted to take a nice walk, so we headed to the Barataria Preserve (part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve).

Our first stop was at the Visitor Center at the Barataria Preserve (the Jean Lafitte Visitor Center in the French Quarter is currently closed due to COVID). Unfortunately, we went after work/school, so we didn’t get there until 4:30 and they closed the gates at 5:00pm. We took the shorter Visitor Center Trail, which took about 20 minutes. We really liked the park and decided to come back on the weekend when we had more time. There are several trails that were closed because of damage, so I would recommend stopping at the Visitor Center to see which ones are currently open.

Our second time there, Nick got his Junior Ranger Badge. We took the Bayou Coquille Trail and Marsh Overlook. The trail began as a dirt/gravel path and once you got to the marshy bayou, it switched to a wooden plank trail.

It was gorgeous. We didn’t see any alligators, although we did see lots of caution signs for them. It was probably too cold, as it was in the 60’s. We did see a turtle sunning on a rock, several great egrets, a nutria eating and swimming in the bayou, and a deer.

Part of the bayou was covered in a flotant, which is a floating mass of plants. It looks solid, but is not always strong enough to hold a human’s weight. It certainly looked like you could walk on it, it would be a huge surprise to find out it wasn’t solid and end up in the water!

Although I was disappointed we didn’t see any alligators, going in the cooler weather probably saved us from a few mosquito bites. And as a friend pointed out when they saw the pictures, probably from seeing a few snakes too. (I am glad we missed the snakes, especially since they have cottonmouths and copperheads down here.)

I could spend several days there. I loved seeing the Spanish Moss on the trees and hearing the different bird calls.

The park did a nice job with the informational signs around the trail as well. Several stops had an audio tour that was a great touch. You called a number from your phone and entered your stop number to hear the information. It was really neat (see beginning of this post to experience it for yourself).

There are a few other trails on the other side of the road by the Educational Center. We were told those trails are mostly dirt, so if it had rained recently they would be muddy. We didn’t have the shoes for mud, so we may go back another day.

VIDEO: Clips From Our Walk In Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Food, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Sazerac House Tour

While looking up things to do in New Orleans, I came across the Sazerac House. They offered several different types of events: tastings, demonstrations, virtual events, and even a free tour with a tasting. The free/complimentary tours were limited to 6 people of the same household, so we had our time slot all to ourselves.

It was honestly one of the best museum type of tours we have been on and it was FREE! They have been open about a year and have some cool technology in their exhibits.

We entered on the main floor and were given disposable gloves. They also had disposable masks available. All staff wore gloves and masks as well. After you had your gloves and mask on, you went to the temperature taking station. Once we were cleared, we headed over to the desk to check in with Tim (he was a fellow Ohioan!) and received a map of the facility, a wrist band for the adults (after checking ID’s), and a touch screen key.

Our tour guide was Kristine Lou. She did a great job during the tour and pointed things out the boys might like to try (the interactive exhibits).

We took the elevator up to the third floor to the history of “coffee shops”, which were apparently upscale bars where women were not allowed. Along one wall, there was a projection screen with a moving illustration of an 1800’s scene. There were history facts and displays along the wall.

We learned about bitters and moved on to the bitters tasting room. They also bottle the bitters here. Bitters are aromatics and seasonings steeped in alcohol, then filtered and added to cocktails. We tried three types: Hellfire (jalapeño), Xocolatl Mole (chocolate), and Peychaud’s bitters. They make bitters on-site and had several barrels of rum aging on-site as well. The bourbon gets shipped to Frankfurt, Kentucky for aging.

We moved onto another room where we learned about the official cocktail of New Orleans, the Sazerac. We also learned about Absinthe. It was in a lot of cocktails and was banned in 1912 for health concerns. A man recreated it and substituted the wormwood (the ingredient they thought was causing problems) and renamed it Herbsaint (used all the letters in Absinthe and added an R, according to our tour guide). This room also had information on Prohibition and how New Orleans kept the drinks coming. There were these really fun interactive tables here as well. There were three different shapes of coasters (round, square, hexagon). You placed your coaster on the table and it told a story based on the coaster shape. You tapped the table to go to the next information screen.

Video

We had our first drink tasting of a Sazerac and watched a short video. Our tour guide poured the boys a limeade, that they make on-site as well.

We walked down to the second floor and had fun “ordering” drinks from the interactive bar. There were four different stations/bar types. There was also an option to take a selfie with your bartender at the end!

Our second tasting was of a rum drink called Aku Aku and limeade again for the boys. This one was a nice mix of sweet and sour. We moved on to the Bourbon room where we learned about charring the barrels to release the sugars in the wood and to add color to the drink. There were some really cool displays with interactive glass windows. You could even tap over a bottle of their alcohol and have a recipe sent to you. (Here is the link to the drink I choose.) We walked through the Rum section, where we saw some barrels sitting to age. There was another short video to watch as well.

Interactive screen bottom right: getting a recipe sent via text

The tour ended with you back on the main floor to see the distillery, where we had our last tasting of straight Sazerac Rye Whiskey and got to see the equipment. After the distillery, you end up in the shop area, where you checked in. The bottle prices didn’t seem that outrageous compared to going to a liquor store.

Note: Kristine Lou had her mask on the whole time until the picture. We were the only ones there and maintained a 6+ foot social distance. Gotta love the zoom feature on cameras!

Everyone enjoyed the tour. It was a fun history lesson with lots of things to read for Will, tastings for the adults (although the limeade was good too!), and interactive screens and videos for those with a shorter attention span. Everything was super clean. I thought they did wonderful job with the tour and the museum. I would definitely recommend it!

DETAILS: *

  • TICKETS: Due to COVID, you need to make reservations online ahead of time. We took the Complimentary tour (free), but they do offer other tours and events ($30 and up).
  • HOURS: Tuesday to Saturday. Tour times vary (usually 11:00 am to 4:20 pm)
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: Ours was about a 90 minute tour, others may vary
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Louisiana, Food

Eating in New Orleans: King Cakes

We have King Cake back home in bakeries for Mardi Gras, but it’s all one kind (cinnamon filling). Don’t get me wrong, it’s good and we buy one every year. But, there are different kinds down here! We were surprised, and wanted to try some new flavors. We stopped at King Cake Hub, where they sell king cakes from a variety of local bakeries.

So many King Cakes! There’s even ice cream!
Our haul. We may have spent too much.
Sample plates

We added our Rouses King Cake to the samplings. This one was bought in a Rouses grocery store, not at the specialty King Cake Hub. They do offer several different types of king cake, and it was a nice change from the cinnamon filling we normally have. We picked the Cream Cheese Pecan Praline King Cake.

Sugar Love Bakery Bread Pudding: I am a sucker for bread pudding, so we had to give this one a try. Even Ben liked it, and he is not normally a bread pudding lover. It had a great taste, with maybe a slight rum aftertaste. I loved it.

Bittersweet Confections Chocolate. This king cake had a cocoa type of filling, but it wasn’t a strong taste. I think most of the chocolate flavor came from the icing on top. It was a nice soft bread and the chocolate crunchy balls on top add nice texture.

Cannata’s Rougagooey: Tough to say, but delicious to eat. This one was my favorite. It was baked really well. Day one, it had a sweet bread taste with icing that tasted like a cream cheese icing to me. The decorations were fun and the information card was a nice touch. The boys enjoyed reading it. This one was even better the second day! It didn’t make it to the third…

NOCCA Cake Cafe Apple Goat Cheese: We saw raves about this on Instagram and gave it a try. Ben liked it. It was okay, but not one that I would buy again. It was not an overly sweet filling. The apples were still slightly crunchy, with the peel on. The crunchy apples were nice. It could have been the one we got, but the bake wasn’t the best. I don’t know that I would buy this one again. #Soggybottom

We didn’t even really make a dent in the types of King Cakes offered! There was a coffee one I was interested in, and several types of fruit filled cakes as well. However, at an average price of $25-$30/King Cake, we probably won’t get through all of them. Plus the RV door is only 24 inches wide. Not sure which would lose first our bank account or our waist line, but we will show some restraint in the Big Easy…at least as far as king cakes go.

~Sarah and Ben (just the funny parts)