The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break on 30A

Grayton Beach, Florida
Spring Break 2012
Part 3 of 3

April 5, 2012



     Everyone has a day that they could live over and over.  I have had the good fortune to enjoy many good days.  Christmas mornings as a child with my brother and sister were good days.  My wedding day and the first day of my honeymoon were good days. The day my children were born will be forever etched in my mind.  Those were all good days.  My first day at Grayton Beach on this trip was a pretty good day too.  If I were to be trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, I could live with that day.

    I wake up with my family.  The sun is shining.  I take a morning bike ride with Lucy.  She is still small enough to fit in the bike seat in front of me but this may be the last year for that.  She squeals with delight as we race down the sleepy streets of Grayton.  I walk her back to Grayton Beach State Park along the emerald shoreline with the beach to ourselves.  We join the rest of the family to go for a short hike before heading over to Seaside for lunch and a shaved ice.  The afternoon is spent on the beach building sandcastles with the kids, swimming in the Gulf, watching dolphins and flying our kite.  We snack on some fresh seafood and spend the evening on the lawn in Seaside watching an outdoor movie with the kids.  I have experienced this day many times down in Florida and I hope this trip will live in the memories of my children like it does for me.  To me, spending some carefree time with my family is a very good day.

Lucy taking the reigns
Frolicking on the beach






Shrimp Served on Boogie Board
Frost Bites by night
Movie Night at Seaside
Sunset over Seaside

     I have written several entries in this blog extolling the virtues of the beaches of 30A on the Florida Panhandle.  This trip did not disappoint.  We decided to end our southern explorations with a few days in Grayton Beach, Florida.  We have never visited during Spring Break.  The weather was perfect.  The days were warm with temperatures in the seventies. It cooled down considerably at night.  We rode our bikes to the beach and over to Seaside.  The boys put up the tent because our campsite had a perfect nook under the trees.  We hiked the dunes with Maggie.  Seaside was overrun with well heeled teenagers so the night scene was quite different from our normal experience.  Even though Grayton Beach is barely a mile a way, it is world away at night and you are lulled to sleep by the sound of water and a pleasant sounds of croaking frogs at night.

     On our last day, we spent one more day at the beach, bought one more shaved ice and went to one more oyster happy hour.  We will miss our favorite beach.  It is never too early to start planning our next trip down.













Seaside Parking Lot


Brothers 






After the dune hike





Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana
KOA West New Orleans
Spring Break 2012
Part 2 of 3
April 2, 2012

St. Charles Line Streetcars
Garden District
     The last time I visited New Orleans was before I had children.  Melizza and I stayed at the Soniat House in the French Quarter.  We went to Commander's Palace and Emeril's.  It was lovely.  The trick this time was to experience New Orleans through the eyes of my children.  At any age, New Orleans is a fascinating city.  For this trip, our approach was to experience the food and culture of New Orleans and avoid the booze and beads on Bourbon Street.  Lucy already knew the city landmarks from watching The Princess and the Frog

     When visiting any type of urban environment with an Airstream, the options are usually limited.  However, New Orleans has a few options available.  There is a RV park near the French Quarter and Bayou Segnette State Park is on the other side of the river.  For this trip, we chose the McCampground chain known as KOA.  If you have read my blog, you know I am not a huge fan of private parks.  However, I have to concede that they are necessary in some instances.  The KOA West New Orleans is in a nice area within sight of the levee on the Mississippi.  There is a bike path along the river atop the levee.  The KOA has a shuttle to the French Quarter but we opted to drive to the Garden District and take the streetcars in.  The service was excellent and it was nice having full hookups although I did have a couple of problems there.  More on that later.

    By the time we arrived in New Orleans, Ethan was begging me to take him out for raw oysters.  He seems to have picked up some of our better culinary habits.  On our arrival date, the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship was being played in the Superdome, so we avoided going downtown and grilled out at our campsite.  We were surrounded by basketball fans with those giant rock star Prevost buses.  Then the biblical rains came.  I soon discovered that our site was on a low spot.  Nice!  My sandals along with the kids were washed away.  Needless to say I was pissed.  I told Melizza all of the nasty things I was going to say to the staff while she laughed at me knowing I would calm down and be polite.  The next morning, a staff member brought my sandals back and I thanked him kindly.  The service was great at the KOA.  Just make sure you ask for a high spot if there is any rain in the forecast.



     The next morning, we rode the St. Charles Line streetcar into town through the Garden District to the French Quarter the next morning.  That is a must do activity for any visitor.  The Garden District is full of magnificent homes along treelined boulevards and streets.  This area was developed by "Americans" after the Louisiana Purchase.  They didn't get along well with the inhabitants of the city who were living in what is now called the French Quarter.  The contrast in architecture styles between the French Quarter and the Garden District is notable.  What is clear is that fortunes were made through the various trades that the Mississippi River made possible.  That included slavery, cotton, sugar and every other conceivable type of commerce.


   
     Our first day in the French Quarter was dedicated to all things touristy.  We began the day at Cafe Du Monde, home of the quintessential New Orleans donut, the beignet.  It may be a bit hokey, but those beignets topped with ridiculous amounts of powdered sugar are a nice treat in the morning.


Just like Tiana makes.
     We had tickets to ride on the Steamboat Natchez in the afternoon, so we spent the morning walking around the French Quarter.  We picked up some gumbo for the boat ride and it was amazing.  Our strategy was to hop from place to place and eat what they were known for.  New Orleans has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food.  No matter how many times you visit, you simply cannot taste it all or visit everyone's favorite haunt.  There are simply too many great places to try.

     The ride along the Mississippi was fun for all of us.  The kids loved looking over the giant paddle wheel and getting some spray off of it.  They also loved watching all of the ships roll by from all over the world.  The Mississippi River around New Orleans is a fascinating site to behold.


Jack and Ethan are mesmerized








     Before we returned to the KOA, I had to sample some the local oysters.  New Orleans has oyster bars at every corner it seems.  We chose Felix's, which is a favorite of the locals.  The oysters were phenomenal this year.  We had many dozens.

Our youngest oyster aficianado


     The next day, we decided to try Willie Mae's, which is famous for having some of the best fried chicken in the country.  Willie Mae's is located in the Treme neighborhood which is notable for being one of the first neighborhoods for free people of color.  It is the epicenter of African American New Orleans.  The last time we were in New Orleans, Melizza and I tried to go and got lost on the crumbling streets.  This time, they were closed due to flooding.  We will see you next time Willie Mae's.


     Fortunately for us, another great restaurant was right around the corner.  Dookie Chase's Restaurant is another famous New Orleans fixture.  Leah Chase, the owner, was the inspiration for Tiana in the Disney movie "Princess and the Frog" which I have watched and listened to hundreds of times with Lucy.  We were able to get a table for lunch and enjoy fried chicken, beans and rice, okra and many other great dishes.  The beauty of the place is that Leah Chase is 89 years old and she still works in the kitchen.  She made an appearance to speak to someone filming a documentary about the place while we were there.  Just about every food show and blog has been here.  She came to our table and spoke with my children and she could not have been more charming and gracious.  She has been working there since she was fourteen.  Lucy called her Tiana's mom.  There is a cartoon hanging in the front with Tiana and Leah Chase making gumbo.  It is signed by John Lasseter and all the folks at Disney.  Very cool.  Sometimes you inadvertently stumble upon great things in the Crescent City.


Lucy loves Tiana and the Princess and the Frog

Two characters meeting for the first time!
Lucy and "Tiana's Mom"

     After leaving Treme, we parked it in the French Quarter and toured around.  We went to the French Market, watched some live jazz in the streets, hit the shops and took in the architecture.  We stopped for some gumbo and oysters and Maggie was able to hang with us.

I took the picture because I bought him a gator head!

The lovely Soniat House.  Our second choice after the Airstream










French Market

Dave Matthews looks terrible in person

     We spent the rest of the afternoon on a walking tour of the Garden District.  Melizza, Maggie and I loved it.  The kids complained the whole time.  I wasn't hearing any of it.  I threatened to leave them at Lafayette Cemetery if they continued whining.  The Garden District is a gem.  Someday they will thank me for showing them the house Jefferson Davis died in, where Anne Rice and John Goodman used to live and where the Manning brothers grew up.  That is culture dammit!  Also, the ironwork is fantastic in the Garden District.  It is worth a stroll of you like architecture and leafy old money neighborhoods.  If you don't have kids, go to Commander's Palace but don't forget your jacket.  They are old school at the Palace.





     There are a number of things that I did not sample on this trip.  I skipped the muffaletta.  I didn't have time for the shrimp remoulade.  Of course, I missed Willie Mae's.  I only saw the Lower Ninth Ward from the river which is in the process of reforestation.  However, I will return to this city many times as I find it eternally charming despite its many problems.  I will have to reread "A Confederacy of Dunces" again when I get home.

     For all of you RV owners, the unthinkable happened at the KOA West.  As I proceeded to dump at my full hookup site, my hose clamp loosened and fell off.  Yikes!!!  I won't offer any more details but suffice it to say, I hope that I will not repeat that event ever again in my travels.  It could have been much worse.  I cut it off quickly.  

     Next stop, the Beaches of 30A in Florida.