Happy New Year!!!
Here we go… this is going to be a long one, folks. I was thinking of dividing this post about our FANTABULOUS Christmas trip down to New Orleans into two separate posts, but then decided that you’re old enough and mature enough to handle it. If you need to stop and take a break, or come back later to finish it, then you can do that. I give you permission 😉
The trip began as soon as the kids got home from school on the 19th of December. We were planning to leave the 20th, and to do two full days of driving, arriving on the 22nd, but then realized that we could take off a half day early and have a little layover at Uncle Matt and Adam’s in Milwaukee. Here’s a look at our countdown board on the last day. It really filled up!
Something great that worked out leaving half a day early like this was that we got to take Grandpa with us down to Wisconsin. He was planning to spend the holiday with the boys anyway, so we just brought him with us and left him with Matt. Then we picked him up on the way home, too. So fun! So that meant that I got to sit in the back with the kids for the first leg:
The next morning we were up bright and early for a 9 hour drive down to Memphis. We decided that on this trip, the kids would work on memorizing the state capitals (something that’s been introduced in Lewis’ class anyway). So I quick made up these sheets for them and here’s their first attempts – not bad! By the end of the vacay, however, I’m proud to announce that they both know all of the capitals!
The first order of business once we arrived in Memphis was to find some place good to eat. Jim really wanted some southern bbq, so we hit up the Pig. It was overall very empty on Beale St. in general, and there was only one other group eating at the time, so very quiet and not too intimidating. We did have problems figuring out if Lewis could eat any of the food, however, but the wait staff were kind of amazing and helped us learn what might be gluten-free. We were a little shocked that in a place like here, with all the tourists all the time, they don’t get that request more often. Oh well.
Here are the kids waiting for the meal. I thought the cups were funny. Beale St. is an open container area, so they could have taken those “Big Ass Beer” cups full of beer out onto the street (if they were 21, of course).
We were very excited when the food arrived. Lewis’ plate was the one with the corn and chicken. It turns out the chicken was marinated in an Italian dressing, and then we left off the spice rub just to be safe. IT WAS THE BEST THING OUT OF EVERYTHING YOU SEE HERE! Seriously! Jim thought the ribs would be wonderful, but it was the chicken was the best. So tender and sooo good!
Another reason to stop in Memphis: to stay for a night in a hotel with a pool. We were all a little sad our place in New Orleans didn’t have one, so this was good for the kids to get a chance to swim a bit. They tried to coordinate jumping in:
Back on the road in the morning for a 6 hour day. We stopped in the morning for ice cream and fried chicken gizzards from a gas station (yes! Jim really ate them! FROM A GAS STATION!), and then in the afternoon we stopped for more gas in lower Mississippi and discovered that it was too warm for jackets and had to take a photo with the blue skies in the background. So exciting!
Driving into new Orleans was so interesting. We got to see some of the channels and swamps on the way in and were just astounded by all the concrete bridges and roadways everywhere. It went on for miles and miles – driving over the swamps. All I could think about were how many mosquito bites those construction workers would have gotten!
We made it to the house mid-afternoon and were very pleased to find that it was exactly what we ordered up. This was our first stay as guests at an Airbnb, and it was wonderful! The house was just as charming as advertised, and we especially enjoyed this private, outdoor patio area (at least for the first part of the week when it was warm enough to be out!):
Since it was Christmas, there were seasonal decorations and we brought the kids’ presents along with us. Cat told us about her friend whose family uses a pineapple as a Christmas tree instead, so we thought we’d copy them and picked one up from the grocery store. We put the presents beneath it:
There was a big rooster guy in the kitchen:
Here’s a look at the place from the outside:
Some of the streets have tile letters embedded in the sidewalk at the corners. Ours was a little beaten up. The house was actually just a block away from the Algiers Point neighborhood, and unfortunately, in the other direction toward the highway, the neighborhood wasn’t so great. But we always felt safe and stayed on the Algiers side:
Our first night there we ordered sushi take out. We had sushi THREE times on the trip and I didn’t manage to get a photo even once of the beautiful creations. Too hungry, I guess? Here are a couple of happy faces mid-consumption, however:
And then the first real day! Jim and I got up and went for a run. We ran through the old neighborhood out to the levees and ran along the river for quite a bit. It was so fun! And WARM! And FOGGY! We stopped for a selfie in front of the Louis Armstrong statue:
I liked the graffiti in New Orleans (read at the top):Here’s some of the fog. You couldn’t even see across the river and the Crescent City Connection was being swallowed up by it: Apparently there are big sky scrapers on the other side:
This is what Lewis did while we ran:
And after a quick shower and something to eat, all four of us were ready to venture on our way. It was SOOOO COOOOOOL! We loved walking through the old neighborhood with all it’s huge oak trees and architecture. In fact, after the first day, that was what Lewis said he enjoyed the most!
The roots were so big they were ruining the sidewalks, but no one seems to mind (especially not me!). It’s hard to see in this photo, but look up ahead where Lewis is going to step and you can get a little more dimension:
It’s a pretty neat skyline. And I wonder how many people visit NOLA and never see it? Most people stay on that side of the city and probably never venture across to Algiers Point. Next time you’re down there, you should try it. It’s only a $2 fee to ride the ferry and it goes very quickly.
We were so excited to be out there!
The first day we didn’t plan very much. We found a scavenger hunt app that you could use to go around the city and learn about the different places, so we thought we’d give that a try and it would help us learn the layout and see if there were things we’d want to come back to later. It started in Jackson square, where all kinds of musicians, artists, and voodoo/palm readers hang out and peddle their goods and services. So fun!
And I don’t have a photo of Jim’s meal because he ate it so quickly and had a sampler, so it basically just looked like our food 😉 I also didn’t take a photo of Lewis’ food because it was so darn sad. After reading the menu and talking with the server, we decided there wasn’t much that was safe for Lewis to eat with his Celiac Disease. The cooks and the servers knew nothing about what the ingredients were ( ! ) and so we ordered him some boiled shrimp without sauce. It came with some lettuce on the side. Poor kid! Don’t get me wrong – he loves shrimp! But he REALLY loves shrimp and there were about 8 little pieces on his plate and that was all he ate. We learned a valuable lesson at this restaurant that eating in this big city would not be as easy as we thought. We figured with millions of tourists there every day, the restaurants would be top notch and would have all that figured out, but we were wrong. So from then on we planned out which restaurants we would go to by googling good ones and sticking to those!
But the road itself was not in good shape. They are doing A LOT of construction on it right now. That didn’t stop the partiers, however. We watched this Santa Claus walk out of a bar and start harassing a passerby:
Another place our scavenger hunt brought us was this park in the middle of the city. It was so peaceful and quiet feeling there even though it was next to a major road and there was quite a bit of traffic. We read the signs about the history of the park and discovered that it was first a sacred Native American grounds, which then morphed into one of the biggest slave-trading areas in the city. We learned that more slaves were bought and sold throughout New Orleans than any other city in the country. No wonder it felt so quiet – it was more solemn feeling, perhaps?
Our scavenger hunt had us ending at the world famous Cafe du Monde, which was perfect because we had a hankering for coffee and sweets and wanted to go there anyway. I must confess – it did NOT disappoint! We ended up visiting the cafe another two times. This is a must if you travel to New Orleans:
When we had wandered by the cafe earlier, the line was down the block. We lucked out when we came back and walked right in. There were many empty tables, but none of them had been bussed yet, so we sat at a dirty table where someone left untouched beignets. Jim decided he was going to be frugal and just eat them. Cat freaked out about it, but Jim was pretty proud of himself. Here he is showing them off:
There’s a tradition to blow off some powdered sugar while making a wish for your first bite, which was pretty ridiculous because the amount of powdered sugar they put on those things means the sugar gets everywhere. Catherine (not the neatest of children to begin with) accidentally flipped one of her beignets upside down and got the sugar all over everything. Jim took this blurry photo of her mess:
The next morning we were up and out at a reasonable time to make a 10:40 tour at the Laura Plantation. This was about an hour drive from the city, and we were glad to have a car and be able to drive ourselves. It took much less time and saved us quite a bit of money (buying the tour at the plantation vs. paying a company to drive us there and buying the tour). We also enjoyed the scenery and comparing the environment to ours at home.
The Laura Plantation has a really unique story compared to all the other plantations around. The big crop that everyone harvested in the heyday (and still ! ) is sugar cane. Laura Plantation was no different. What made it special is that for many years and multiple generations, the women of the family were in charge and at the helm, often times because they were sort of forced into the position. It was so neat to learn the stories of all of the family members and get a feel for what life might have been like back then.
There were all kinds of stories, info, trading papers, letters – anything you can think of. It was incredible learning some of the details of such a tortured group of people. By learning about them, sharing their stories, and having discussions is how we honor this hardworking group of people and keep their memories alive. So many died without anything but that to pass on to future generations:
The big house was pretty grand. We learned that at one point all that beautiful paint had been covered up by multiple layers of plain ol’ white paint, and when they did the renovations, they scraped it down to the last set of colors and repainted exactly what they saw. So neat!
Here’s a shot of our little tour group under the big oak in front of the big house. That’s our tour guide, Al, in the blue sweatshirt. He’s cajun and was everything we wanted him to be. It was so great to hear the stories with his Louisiana French accent:
We were first brought to the basement and learned how the house was designed out in the swamp, where all the lumber came from, and organized by roman numerals with pegs. The lumber was then all brought back to the site and just sort of stuck together. It was ingenious. And was also the creation of an African slave who belonged to someone else but was loaned out for the purposes of house building. There were no nails used in the construction of the house, just these pegs:
We were then taken upstairs to many different rooms to learn about all the different generations and the story of the family. Most of this info was learned after Laura (whom the plantation is now named after) wrote down her family history in her memoirs. I purchased the book and would be happy to loan it out if you’re interested (after I finish reading it!):
Here’s the back of the house. The original house was actually larger, and you can see the bricks which still remain from before. Funny story – see that black cat? We came down those steps and walked past him on our way out to the yard and discovered that the cat had captured a mouse which it had decapitated and was then tearing to pieces. Gross!
There was a copy of the agreement that the slaves and owners signed hanging on the mantel from after the civil war. Many of the slaves stayed on site and continued to work for meager wages. They were often paid in plantation specific coin, where they could only spend their money at the plantation store, so many of them became indebted to the plantation and had no means for leaving. It’s very sad to think that after all that suffering, when there should have been celebration, there were just many, many more years of suffering to follow:
After the tour, we hung out at a picnic area on the plantation to eat our packed lunch. It was a little chillier out that day, maybe somewhere in the high 50s. Our guide ended up coming out for a break and we talked with him a bit more about himself and growing up in the area. It was fun to get a little more of the real Al, vs the tour guide Al. Anyway, he was all worried about how cold it was going to get and made me very nervous about it. He said he had been told by some Canadians once that since the air is so thick down there and full of moisture it feels way colder when it’s chilly than when it’s really cold in Canada. Since we were planning to head out into the swamp the next day, I was worried we’d all be freezing, but we were all fine. I guess Yoopers are tougher than Canadians, eh?! That crazy Cajun had me all worried for nothin’!
We then headed to another plantation which I had wanted to tour, but we decided we had had enough for the day. It’s called the Oak Alley Plantation and would have been very different from the first tour. While the Laura Plantation focused much more on the struggles of slavery, Oak Alley focuses more on how grand a plantation could be as evidenced by this alley of oak trees leading to the road:
We ended up parking across the street and walking up on the levee to get a good view. It’s kind of one of my favorite memories from the trip. It felt good to take the kids away from the touristy stuff and just spend some nice family time walking in nature, and this was so different from anywhere else we’ve been:
There were some very large ships out on the river. The kids had fun viewing them!
After arriving back into the city, we decided to take a nap/time-out for about an hour before heading back over to the French Quarter via the ferry. We had a plan: take the ferry over, hop on the street car, and travel to the Garden District for dinner at Superior Seafood (which we found online and would be suitable for Lewis). It was the day before Christmas Eve, so we figured there would be a decent amount of people out and about, but we thought if we arrived at the restaurant early enough, there wouldn’t be any need for a reservation. And since we didn’t really know what time we’d get there, we thought this was the route we should go. Here’s a pic of a street car (not the one we rode on, but a different one):
We ended up encountering a problem – the street car we needed to get on was a little bit of a walk from the ferry station, so it took a little while to get there. Then, we learned that there had been an issue with the street cars a few weeks before and many of them on the line we needed were often delayed and/or required you to get on a bus first and ride to a different location. We found both things to be true. We waited for quite a while and then hopped on a bus, which we then took to another spot and got on the street car. Here we are riding the car (which was terribly lit as well as jerky, hence the photo is blurry):
I think we all enjoyed it, but were irritated with how long it took to get to the restaurant. And then guess what?! We were too late to find any open tables. We were offered a chance to find a spot in the bar, but there was absolutely no way we were going to get a table in the main dining area for the whole night. And then when we wandered through the bar, there weren’t any tables there currently, either. We had planned to arrive by 5:00, but didn’t get there until after 5:30 and learned the hard way that there are A TON of people in New Orleans ALL THE TIME. More on that later.
So we hooked up with an Uber driver and took a ride back into the French Quarter to try another restaurant we had found online. This restaurant was also busy. The good news was that they could seat us, but the bad news was it wouldn’t be until 8:30pm. Well, that didn’t work as we were planning to go on a ghost tour at 7:15. Boo! What to do?!
So we wandered aimlessly for a little bit (looking for a bathroom – side note here – New Orleans is the worst place to need to go to the bathroom. Funny, right? As there are no open container laws and people are drinking all day long? WHY AREN’T THERE ANY PUBLIC RESTROOMS?!) and we finally settled on Walgreens for dinner. Yup, you read that right. We found two Walgreens across the street from each other on this beautiful road:
We each picked out something we could choke down, walked it over to the river, and sat in the chilly, windy air while we munched on gummy bears, pistachios, and chips with bean dip. Jim was the only one who wasn’t upset by the ordeal:
But it’s a funny story and was also a teaching moment for Lewis. He got VERY upset when the seafood restaurant turned us away. In fact, his behavior was quite a bit embarrassing, and we decided it was a chance to teach him that things don’t always work out like you expect them to when traveling, and that sometimes you have to change plans. It’s how you deal with those changes and quick thinking on your feet that can make or break a trip. We told him that someday he’ll be out traveling with friends and something will come up, and he’ll have had this experience to draw on. He’ll be able to keep a cool head and come up with a new plan. There’s no use dwelling on what went wrong – just figure something out. I think he got it. And after he ate the gummy bears, he wasn’t too upset anymore. And I think he’ll be the first one to tell you the funny story of how we ate at Walgreens 😉
Jim snapped this pic of us listening to our guide. He was also great! His name was Kyle and he’s from Minneapolis, but you can tell he loves giving tours in New Orleans and was sooooo funny! We weren’t scared at all, just completely entertained!
Oh, the Christmas decorations!
The ghost tour was probably one of the kids’ most favorite and memorable things. You should ask them to tell you a story or two next time you see them! Speaking of kids – we were shocked by the number of children we DIDN’T see while out and about. Once we finally made it to a couple of activities actually geared toward kids, then we saw them. But just out walking about the French Quarter – I could probably count on two hands how many kids their age we saw. It was weird. But also makes sense, I guess, when you think of what a party city New Orleans is.
The next morning it was time for our swamp tour. This was one of the things we were looking forward to the most before our trip. And we were so grateful it was a bright, sunshiny day. It was a little chilly, like the Cajun said, but not nearly as cold as he tricked us into thinking it would be. We were a little disappointed when we arrived (again, grateful to have had the car so we could drive ourselves) to find that this place was such a tourist trap! There were so many people standing and waiting around! We were all a little disgusted waiting our turn before it started. Lewis doesn’t look disgusted, does he?
Our guide took us around some canals with houses. He said most people didn’t actually live there full time, they just had vacation homes. And he showed us this house which is up to the new codes for floodwater homes – building on stilts 16 feet above the river. !
And our first (and only) sighting of an alligator. The guide explained that because it was pretty chilly out, we probably wouldn’t see too many. Apparently when it gets cold, the alligators take deep breaths and burrow down into the sand and sort of hibernate, or at least the big ones do. This guy was about 5 feet, so not too big and not too small:
Here’s another boat we passed. Our vessel looked the same, but without the top (which I was grateful for – more sunshine!):We went kind of fast sometimes:
Even though the swamp wasn’t full of all the creatures I had intended to see (too cold – even for the birds, apparently), it was still neat. We learned about the Cypress tree roots which grow up out of the water. The guide called them “knees.”
We went under this super old, rusty lift bridge. It reminded us of home. The sign on it said to plan a day in advance if you need it lifted, and if you needed to go under it soon, it would be about 4 hours before someone could come lift it. A little different than our bridge:
Overall, the swamp tour was fun, but it was a little disappointing. I’d like to go back in warmer weather sometime, and also when it’s green out, and try again. Speaking of weather – when I looked up the average highs for late December, it was 69. After the first two days of us being there, the highs dropped continually every day from upper 70s all the way to the upper 40s for our last day. It kind of stunk, but it was still better than this at home:
Yup, the Keweenaw got a ton of snow while we were gone. And the temperatures up there plummeted, and have stayed low ever since we’ve been back. The kids have been stuck inside for recess all week, and I think Lewis is going to go crazy. We were shocked by how much bigger the snowbanks were when we pulled into town and are so grateful for our friends who shoveled and checked on the house for us! It made the vacation so great to not have to worry about anything!
That evening was Christmas Eve, so we found a nice Indian restaurant that was open and decided to head there for dinner. We had a little time to kill, though, so we headed over to City Park (a giant green space in the middle of the city) because we heard there was good bird watching there, and after riding on the boat we thought we might go for a short hike. The hiking didn’t pan out too well, but there was a play structure that the kids found and enjoyed getting some energy out on. I walked over to a little swamp area and took these photos off the bridge:
It was beautiful, except for the amount of trash I found in the weeds. There were no less than FIVE plastic water bottles floating around. And this was actually a pretty clean area. I was a bit grossed out and disappointed in the amount of trash we saw lining the highways and roads. And the waste! Throughout the whole trip we were surprised by the places that would serve on plastic instead of real plates, or double-bagging at the grocery store (insanely ridiculous and we didn’t see a single person with their own bags or even reusable bags to buy!). It made me really sad how out of touch some people are. And it really brought to light how many people are out there.
On our way home after dinner, we encountered this:
Once we got home, the kids partook in a Christmas Eve tradition: new pajamas! They loved them 🙂
We weren’t planning to do much on Christmas day as we figured we could use the rest and that many things would be closed, but were planning to maybe venture to a beach somewhere. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t warm enough (low 50s), and so we headed to a National Park Wildlife Preserve and took a hike:
That was so cool. No feeding. No luring. He was just there because that’s where he lives and that’s what he does. We love National Parks!
And then, we were supposed to head back to the house and just chill for the day, but I was a little obsessed with knowing how many people might be out and about in the French Quarter on such a holiday. It turns out there were quite a few! And a lot of places were open. We saw a garbage truck drive by and the man shouted, “There’s still garbage – even on a holiday!” There were a couple of houses that we wanted to go back and check out in the daylight which we learned about on the ghost tour, so it was a good opportunity to do that, too. Our ghost guide showed us this green house in the dark. Apparently there were a number of fires back in the old days, and after this house burned down in the early 1800s, it was rebuilt EXACTLY as it had been before the fire. It’s an example of what all of the houses looked like at that time. It’s a little different, but not too much:
Jim had to use the bathroom pretty badly and the kids wanted to shop for masks. So he took off for a while to hunt one down while the kids and I took a look. It took a long time for Jim to return, and when he did, he was carrying this. Apparently he thought I’d like to drink it. It’s called a “hand grenade” and tastes like the sour part of a green apple sour patch kid. It was disgusting, cold, and embarrassing to be carrying it around. So we traded and I drank his IPA instead. Oh this man!
When we got home, we relaxed for a bit and I took this silly photo of Jim. All the doorways were a little short for him!
And for dessert? Ice cream with Christmas cookie crumbles and hot fudge on top!
On our second to last day, we tried to book a tour of the Garden District (also known as Uptown), but they were all booked up. So we decided to do a self-guided walking tour on our own!
We read the PDF off the phone, and it worked out really well. The tour started in the Lafayette Cemetery where we found this grave for three children all from the same family who died in two days. Yellow Fever used to cause so many deaths back in the day. Glad it’s under control now!
Then our tour took us back out onto the street to look at the ginormous houses in the area. They were all very fancy and some are owned by famous people. It was fun doing the tour this way – we learned just the right amount of stuff and it went way faster than with a group:
What next? Dessert, of course! We finally got over to Brennan’s where they squeezed us into the bar area (we had made a reservation, but the only one available wasn’t until 9:15 pm and we thought we’d try to get a table during the day instead. We got lucky!) Our server made the Bananas Foster right there by the table and enjoyed talking to Jim about how he makes his own B.F.. When he asked the kids if it was just like Dad’s, Cat shouted, “Nope! He never gets that much fire!” Ha!
And then it was time for second dessert: more beignets. This time we went into the shopping center on the riverwalk hoping the line would be shorter. It wasn’t. We waited for quite a while, but it was worth it. The shop there has glass windows so you can see how the beignets are made. Neat!
Then it was time to head home for a quick recoup before we headed out to a seafood restaurant (finally!) which was recommended by a friend who lives down there. It’s called Deanies, and it was delicious! They started with bringing boiled potatoes to the table instead of bread. They were different and wonderful!
After the dinner, we headed back over to City Park to enjoy the seasonal display of the “Celebration of the Oaks.” It takes place in the botanical and children’s sections of the park and features all kind of Christmas lights and decorations. it was so neat!
And then this happened in the little kid section. We laughed and laughed!
What a fun evening! Then the next morning, our last morning, we were feeling guilty about all the leftovers in the fridge and decided to try to make a dent during breakfast. So Lewis ate shrimp and Cat had spaghetti squash for their meal. Ha!
And Jim and I went on our final run for the week. It was so nice to get outside without ski masks and big winter coats! We loved running along the levee:
We decided to save the aquarium for the last day as we knew the weather would be the worst. It dropped down into the upper 40s and was just kind of misty all day. It was perfect for being inside and learning about sea animals!
Oh man! Soooo good! Jim is going to try to recreate the olive/vinegar spread and we’re going to make these!
And then, it was a super hard decision, but we headed to the bug museum instead of the WWII museum. We just didn’t have enough time for both and had to choose. After checking out the various exhibits online, we decided that the kids would enjoy the bugs more. And you know what? After being there, I think I probably did, too. It was so fun!
And they had a cafe where insects were served up. When I mentioned that Lewis had celiac disease, they brought out a different plate of cookies made from cricket four for him to try. He loved it! I’ve already looked it up online and you can buy cookies and flour made from crickets and use it just like all the other kinds of flour! We’re going to have to try it!
And then, just before our last ferry trip back home, we decided to kill time while waiting for it at a nearby bar. We walked in to get drinks, but Dad and Cat saw the oysters and just had to have one more sample. They’re so cute!
Back at the house, we had one more relaxing evening where we ate up all the leftovers and made drinks with fresh mint growing in the herb garden outside the house. So fun! It may not have felt like summer, but it sure tasted like it!
There was one more photo I just HAD to take while in the house. In the kids’ bedroom, there was pretty, sparkly high-heeled shoe on top of the dresser as a decoration. Paired with Cat’s new mask and the beads she stole out of a tree, it made for a fabulous photo. The colors matched perfectly! Like it?
And then we began the long journey back home. It was so nice to arrive to a shoveled driveway and a happy dog (a HUGE thanks to Cory and Rachel who watched Charlie at their house for us the whole time we were gone! How amazing is that???!!!) And now we’re getting back into the swing of things.
Really quickly before we wrap this up, here are a few vacation quotes for you:
Oh my gosh, you guys. this is just the beginning of a very, very good week of eating food. (Mom, Day 2)
I see it! La Quinta inn and Suites! (pronounced La Keenta Inn and Suits, Lewis, Day 2)
Remember that time you bought gizzards from a gas station? (Mom, Day 3)
Yup. There’s a lot of things I can hit my head on around here. (Dad, Day 3)
Ow! My eyes! I’m not used to all this light! (Lewis, Day 4)
My favorite part was walking through the neighborhood. (Lewis, Day 4)
Do you think it’ll be like when I make it? (Dad) No!! (Cat, when she saw how high the flames would go on the Bananas Foster, Day 7)
Why are you guys acting like tourists? It’s just snow on trees. You’re acting like you don’t live here. (Lewis, Day 10 in response to the rest of us in the car when we rolled into town and saw how big the snowbanks were)
Congrats! You’ve made it to the finish! Thanks for reading 🙂