Monday, August 11, 2014

Road trip 2014: New Orleans and my birthday

Many years ago, you’d find me saying, “I don’t do road trips.” I was all about minimizing my time traveling so I could maximize my enjoyment at my destination. But that was then.

Before I had kids, when travel meant airfare times two. Now it’s times four.

Before I quit my nine-to-five job, when I had to spend my time wisely with only a handful of paid vacation days from work. There’s an urgency to the destination then, when time was so restrictively finite.

It’s different now. Ever since My Guy and I both left our corporate jobs, we’re able to have a little more freedom with how we spend our days, our summers. Suddenly, road trips are more enticing – sure we spend more time on the road, but that also means we get to see more. There’s so much to explore, especially in this country that I’ve called home for a little over half of my life. In four days, it would be the 20th anniversary of the day I set foot in America. (Holy shit!) But I’ve barely seen much of it.

And I’d like to.

Which is why we decided to drive to St. Augustine to visit the girls’ grandparents. From Central Texas to Northeastern Florida. A 16-hour road trip, 13 of which would be spent on the same Interstate highway across five states. Were the girls older and more capable of keeping themselves entertained for longer periods, we would perhaps have picked more scenic routes than the interstates, but that time will come. For now, 16 hours was already a stretch.

Instead of hurrying to our destination, we decided to spend two nights in New Orleans as it’s ideally located exactly halfway between. It was planned that way because I also wanted to spend my 39th birthday there. Yes, I’m actually admitting to my age because even if I didn’t, Little Miss would announce it on my behalf anyway, like she did back in Chicago, when she used to stop people passing us in our neighborhood to say,  “My mommy is 37 years old!” I’m just beating her to the punch.

I have to say, I think I picked a good spot for a birthday.


The Journey



Nearing Houston, we found more colossal highways, like the ones in Austin. Everything is bigger here in this state. And no matter where we are, there’s always a lone star or the shape of the state of Texas to remind us of where we are. Like we would ever forget, with all that looms so large above us.


Can you believe this is a rest area bathroom? In fact, this entire place is dedicated to providing travelers with information about the history of Texas, as well as its native plants and animals. (Wow!) This was where we stopped for a quick stretch and picnic lunch, an hour or so outside of Houston, off Interstate 10.


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Oh yeah, this was right here at the rest stop—creatures we might spot if we ventured along the nature walk. NO. THANK. YOU. I love that they built this to entertain the weary traveler, but I have to admit, as much as I like discovering new things along our journey, I could happily go on without knowing what critters surround me as I’m exploring the area. Ignorance, in this case, is definitely bliss.






By now I couldn’t wait to GTFO of Texas. 




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Yay, Louisiana! They don’t call this the Wetlands for nothing. We hit a major downpour right after we spotted a beautiful rainbow right in front of us. On this bridge, we were crossing the Mississippi River, with downtown Baton Rouge on our left and only 1.5 hours left to New Orleans. 

What isn’t pictured is the parts of the highway that ran above the river and lake on long stretches in Louisiana. We were surrounded by water and marshes, but since I was the one driving and My Guy was asleep, we don’t have pictures to share. We’ll try on our way back. After living in Texas for the past five months, we noticed just how lush this part of the world was compared to ours. It’s green in Austin, but you can sense the crackling dryness of the area just by looking at it. Here, plants grow on plants, smothering the area with a greenery that’s breathtakingly vibrant and startlingly alive. Had it not been for the drought in our area, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

The Destination

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We arrived at the hotel at around 8PM; the sun was already on its way down. Once we dropped our bags off, it was time for dinner.





First stop: Bourbon Street. It was fun because of the novelty, but I couldn’t do it again the next evening. It’s definitely something to experience, but not one I would go back to over and over again. Cheap beer/cocktails, crappy trinkets, and the relentless throng of people are just not my scene.


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The girls received their beads within minutes of our arrival. But at least they didn’t have to bare anything for those. The beads were thrown by random strangers from a random balcony on Bourbon Street. Pictured here, are my Girls Gone Wild after nearly 12 hours of traveling (eight hours of driving plus the gazillion breaks along the way). After a meal of etouffee and jambalaya, we ventured into a garden that lured us in with live jazz.


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A birthday selfie after breakfast – I had a Croque Madame - with my favorite girls in the whole wide world.



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A day of exploration started on the Riverwalk. That’s the Mississippi River beside us.



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St. Louis Cathedral at the French Quarter. I loved seeing banana trees – so common in Malaysia - as part of the landscape here.


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We stopped to admire the lovely frescoes, and I have to admit, the cool interior was a lovely reprieve from the heat and humidity for which New Orleans is known.

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Of course we had to stop at the French Market too.




Saved by frozen Mango slushies. These girls were troopers for awhile…but their enthusiasm melted in the hot, hot sun. And who can blame them?


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No, we didn’t get a Gator on a Stick, but we did have gator sausage at dinner the night before. Little Miss was sorely disappointed we didn’t order the fried gator though.




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Waiting for the streetcar (not trolley!) while munching on ice to fight the heat. The poor girls – they overheated easily, especially this little one.

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As far as the girls were concerned, this is The Streetcar Named Get-Me-The-Fuck-Back-to-the-Air-Conditioned-Hotel.



We drove beyond downtown New Orleans while Pickle napped in the (air-conditioned!) car. We found old neighborhoods with really quaint and beautiful homes, and we admired the magnificent old oaks in New Orleans’ impressive city park. Once she was up, we popped into a Toys R’ Us to get Pickle a stroller – we realized that, as active as she usually is, she still had little legs and expecting her to keep up in the heat was too much. We’d left our stroller at home, so we bit the bullet and got a new one just so she could have a more pleasant experience for the rest of our trip. She was certainly happier the rest of the day. And so were we. Oh, the things we learn…



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A food town, New Orleans is teeming with great places to eat. But having recently won the 2014 Best New Restaurant in the country, Peche Seafood Grill became a no-brainer pick for this birthday girl  lady woman. At five and three, the girls tried raw oysters for the first time. I think I was six or seven, but I’ve loved them since my first taste of their briny succulence. Little Miss went back for another, and Pickle remarked, after swallowing, “I think I like it a little bit,” but refrained from more. My Guy spoiled me by ordering another half a dozen while Little Miss went to town with the shrimp, heads and all. We were also amused and amazed by the little pellets they provided on the side, which turned into fabric wipes in the hot water. Magic! On our way back, Little Miss, who didn’t get a stroller, gave us the biggest smile I’d seen all day when her daddy hoisted her up and carried her halfway back to the hotel. I think that was the happiest part of her day. Followed by the shrimp heads as a close second.


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Cafe Du Monde in the background.



A trip to NOLA would not have been complete without these quintessential beignets of course. The girls showed little interest in beignets (I know, such weirdos!) so we chose to savor them ourselves, when they were back at the hotel with a sitter (a surprise that My Guy arranged so we could experience some grownup night life).


Back at the Riverwalk to walk off all those extraneous calories, although at the rate we were going, I would have to walk back to Austin to make up for all that we’ve consumed so far.


It’s some Bourbon cocktail, but it’s not on Bourbon Street.  By choice.

When we returned to the hotel, Little Miss was completely out for the night but her sister popped out of bed, happy to see us. It was past 11PM, and I couldn’t believe she was still up, but at the same time, I could. It’s vacation after all, and my birthday! Rules don’t apply when we’re on the road. They watch hours of movies, we dine on junk food, and we move to the rhythm of our bodies, not the clock.

Maybe that’s why it was a great birthday celebration. Away from the usual routine, even whiney, overheated, overexerted kids seem a little more bearable. As we walked the uneven and battered streets of New Orleans, I inhaled the flavors of a city so full of history and life, glad to be navigating the urban jungle - my natural habitat – with my family. Yet, at the same time, I was just as happy to be able to walk away from all this and on to the next part of our adventure the next day. It’s amazing to think that at 39, I have yet to scratch the surface of all the things I want to see and do in this world.

But hey, I’m trying.