The Big Easy…NOLA (2/12-19)

We hightailed it through Alabama and Mississippi with promises to come back and soak up the history of those two states in the future. We stayed at Bayou Segnette State Park across the mighty Mississippi from the French Quarter and it was just perfect for our needs. First, let me emphasize…there is FREE LAUNDRY at Bayou Segnette. FREE. LAUNDRY. The sites are well spaced with plenty of green in between and behind sites. The bathhouses are adequate, but can be a bit of a hike depending on your site number. If you’re using the bathhouses (or if you’re doing some FREE LAUNDRY and washing every scrap of fabric in your camper), try to snag a site near the bathhouses. We didn’t get one and hiked a wooden path through the bayou (um, swamp…?) to get there. Also…a full week in this park and this is the only picture we got of the park itself. :/

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Other than the campground, there isn’t much to do AT the state park if you don’t have a boat or aren’t there when the pool and wave pool are open. But really, who goes to NOLA to hang at their state park!? The Algiers ferry terminal is about 20 minutes from Bayou Segnette and has free street parking (or $5 all day lot parking) and it’s only $2 per person to cross the river. The hulking, clanging, squealing, circa 1940s (feeling) battleship ferry drops you at the tip of the French Quarter and you can walk to all the madness that is this fascinating city. If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of a real, live Mississippi river rat. It’s part of the experience guys.

We started our first day in the French Quarter with a walk down Bourbon Street (which smells like warm beer and hot, overflowing dumpsters), street performers and toe-curling beignets at Cafe du Monde…obviously. After strolling the city a bit more and being led by the more pleasant aromas of the many incredible restaurants, we ducked into the Gumbo Shop (highly, highly recommend!) for lunch. I couldn’t decide what local delicacy to order so our fabulous server said she’d surprise me. Shrimp creole, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and jambalaya all on one plate. Yes please. The boys enjoyed a roast beef po boy and Shan devoured his jambalaya. Please go here for a meal if you’re in NOLA.

During the week we also visited Oak Alley Plantation. Always a struggle to see such a gracious home and property but know on whose backs that property was built and operated. The tour was very informative, but there’s so much emphasis on genteel southern plantation life and so little emphasis on the absolute horrors of slavery. The home and the 300 year old oaks were lovely though. The mint julep was knock-you-on-your-tush-strong. Oak Alley has an extensive exhibit of slave quarters with some very honest and awful examples of slave life. Awful. Friends had just toured Oak Alley and the Whitney Plantation. They told me about how the planation truly looks at the entire “plantation experience” from the slaves’ perspective as opposed to the more common plantation owner’s side. The Whitney Plantation was the one we meant to tour.

On our next foray into the French Quarter there were more beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Oh, sorry. We also walked through the open air market and stumbled on the LEGO mini figure booth where the heavens opened and the angels sung (sang?) and the boys’ looked like shaken sodas, ready to explode with joy.  Next we toured the Jean Lafitte National Historic Site/French Quarter Visitor Center, where the boys completed the Junior Ranger program and scored another badge for their collection. Jean Lafitte (1780-1823-ish) was a French pirate and smuggler who paused his illicit adventures to fight on the side of the United States in defense of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Continuing the French Quarter trend, on Thursday we headed right to the Jazz National Historic Park. You guys, there’s a National Park location dedicated to jazz music!! The boys burned through this Junior Ranger program fast and earned yet another badge. This National Park is temporarily being house at the Old US Mint building which also hosts Music At The Mint. We got to enjoy an amazing jazz concert performed by actual National Park Rangers along with special guest Charlie Gabriel (unbelievable musician and historian). What a special treat! There was more Gumbo Shop food on this day. 🙂

We rounded out our week in New Orleans with an afternoon at the Audubon Insectarium (super cool!) where I got to see the things nightmares are made of come to life…creeping, crawling, buzzing life. Wrapped it up with a dinner of po boys and crawfish etouffe at Mother’s Restaurant.

When asked what they thought about New Orleans, the boys were split. Callum says it was his favorite place so far because it was so wild. Quinn says it was interesting but strange. I think Shan and I are a mix of both. I do know that the food will keep me coming back. OK, the weird too. I do so enjoy some weird.

Rainbow Springs – as pretty as it sounds.

After leaving Koreshan State Park, we were hightailing it up and out of Florida. We needed a quick stopover before heading into the panhandle in order to not have a VERY long drive-day. So, we stopped the weekend of February 3rd at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL. This is one of the few state parks we’ve ever seen with full hook-ups, a nice touch! The sites are well spaced and many are fairly private.

Since we only had ONE full day here, a paddle up the river in tandem kayaks was the way to go. But first, we hit the headsprings area for a tour of what used to be (from the 1920s to the 1970s) an early amusement park. There were (are) intricately planned gardens, waterfalls, streams and ponds. There are the remains of what was a zoo and there was a rodeo and even a monorail. I could just envision families and friends meeting there with picnic lunches, dressed to the nines, maybe donning their bathing costumes for a dip in the warm springs. Careful ladies, don’t show those shoulders! Since spring in this area of Florida starts just as the north is getting feet of snow, the hills were alive with the sound of music blooms of azaleas. Gorgeous.

After a quick lunch back at the camper, we walked to the river and hauled our ridiculously heavy, likely made of concrete, double kayaks into the water with only minimal grunting. The winds and the current were pushing against us, making the paddle upriver…excellent cardio. Once we were on the water, we realized how shockingly clear and turquoise it was. Like, jaw-dropping(ly), eye-popping(ly) clear. No tropical island’s water, no east coast beach water, no mountain stream that I’ve ever seen has had water so clear, so turquoise. It was all I could do not to dunk my face over the side of the kayak and start gulping it down. Ahhhh. Refreshing! I assume. I didn’t do it. Anyway, there were dozens of turtles (some massive!), interesting birds, plenty of fish and this deep emerald-green river grass that swayed in the current like a mermaid’s hair. Lovely. We finally made it to the headspring (at the park we’d toured earlier) and spent some time just gazing into the water before heading back to haul our kayaks (this time with a little more grunting) back to the racks. It was a VERY full day and we slept well before waking and heading off to Panama City the following day!

If you have a chance to spend time here, I HIGHLY recommend. If you own kayaks, I double recommend.

Camping with a Religious Cult.

In an effort to really experience it all, we decided to stay at a religious cult campground. Well, sort of. Koreshan State Park is north of Naples, south of Fort Myers, in Estero, Florida. Cyrus (in Hebrew: Koresh) Teed brought his followers from New York to Florida in 1894 to start this self-sustaining “New Jerusalem” community and expand his religion…which believed that the earth was hollow and contained the entire universe with the sun at the center (as well as other interesting beliefs). After Teed’s death in 1908, membership steadily declined until the last 4 Koreshans deeded the village and acreage to the state of Florida and the State Park was born. The property still has many of the original buildings to tour including an impressive machine shop, the bakery, the stunning art hall and more.

The campground has two sandy loops loops with water and electric. It was closed for many months while they upgraded both and had only just recently reopened (we were so persistent—called once a week during the closure—that we snagged 2 weeks here in high season!). The sites still needed some regrading as the fill used to cover the upgrades sunk a bit in the middle. But they were working on it. The bathhouses were old and not pretty, but very clean (and even conducive to a hair dying session). There’s some Estero River frontage with kayak and canoe rentals, a playground in the woods, a wooded walking path and of course the very interesting Koreshan Village that hosts reenactments, guided tours, a farmers market and many other activities. This is a VERY active Florida State Park!

While we were at Koreshan we spent lots of time with Grammy and Pop since they winter at the gorgeous resort: Cypress Trails in Fort Meyers right up the road. We spent a glorious afternoon on Sanibel Island and even got a close up with a dolphin who swam into shallow waters to check us out. Shannon and I got not one, but TWO date nights when the boys had sleepovers at Gram and Pop’s RV! It was so nice for the boys (and for us) to have that time with them before we head West for more adventures. There was blogging, screen time and a trip to Bass Pro where my little “campers” were fascinated by…tents. We also were lucky enough to cross paths with more full timing, Airstream Instafriends (I swear, Instagram has made us SO social!). Very thankful we had two weeks at Koreshan. I definitely recommend. It’s so important to teach your children about bizarre religious cults. (-_-)  Or, you know, to spend quality time with family close by.

 

Maryland Science Center

Friday, September 23rd, 2016.

Since we had a couple more weeks in the Bmore ‘burbs, we decided to hit the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore for our last local “Friday Field Trip”. My boys could live in a science museum. They must do All. The. Things. And so we did…spent 7 hours doing experiments, learning about space, weather, circuits, gravity, aerodynamics, dinosaurs, bodily functions and much more. The MDSCI has an amazing IMAX theater too and the movie about hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes was amazing. Normally this is a pricey museum, plus Bmore parking is painful too. However, the MDSCI has homeschool days! What would have been a $100 museum visit was only $21.

   

A little post-museum ice cream.

Good news for many travelers is that the MDSCI is part of the ASTC museum passport program (the IMAX movies are extra)! If you’re in/near the Inner Harbor of downtown Bmore for a couple days, a couple other worthwhile stops are the National Aquarium, touring the Historic Ships, of course Fort McHenry (get those Jr. Ranger badges!) and an O’s game at Camden Yards.

We’ve not been great about playing hometown tourists while living here but did get a handful of cool sites in.

Field Trip Friday – 9/9/16

Not only was it Field Trip Friday, it was also our first visit to a National Park site. We hit up Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, MD. I’ve lived around the corner from it most my life and had never been. The boys were very hopeful that they’d get their very first Jr. Ranger Badges.

Built as the county seat just after the Revolutionary War, the property encompassed most of what is now Baltimore and the surrounding areas. The stories of the people who lived on this property, both the unbelievably wealthy family/owners and the hundreds and hundreds of slaves, are remarkable.


The boys and I took a guided tour of the mansion with a few other grownups. I worried that it would be painfully boring for kids, but Quinn and Callum were fascinated the entire time and asked lots of questions. They were particularly enamored with the chamberpots. Boys.

We had our Jr. Ranger workbooks to complete as we toured. Lots of interesting things to learn about American history. Finally, after about 5 hours of learning (our longest homeschool day yet) we hit the visitor center to turn in the completed books. Happily, the guys got not one Jr. Ranger badge, but THREE each! Nice way to start a collection.

If you’re in the area, it’s absolutely worth a visit.