I had the amazing privilege of traveling to New Orleans with Clay, Iana, Ben, and Josef to visit Nick! There is just so much to say about this city, so here are a few thoughts and reasons why I loved my first time visiting NOLA:
History and the French Quarter
The city is just so rich with history and I'm so glad we got to visit a number of historical sites. The French Quarter, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, is filled with some amazing architecture. As I walked through the streets, it was super easy to see elaborate iron balconies, overflowing plants & vegetation, and vibrant walls everywhere up and down the streets. In the heart of the French Quarter is Jackson Square, with the iconic St. Louis Cathedral (one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States) as well as an equestrian statue of America's 7th president, Andrew Jackson. On the left of the cathedral is the Cabildo, the former town hall where the Louisiana purchase was signed! On the right of the cathedral is the Presbytere, which was previously used by the Louisiana Supreme Court and now a museum. Located on one of the corners of Jackson Square is Cafe du Monde, the place to get beignets and cafe au lait. Even this 24-hour cafe has some notable history - it's been open since the years of the American Civil War!
During our time in New Orleans, I had the chance to visit three totally different, but totally awesome museums. The first one was the 1850 House, an antebellum row house located in one of the Pontalba Buildings on Jackson Square. This house museum has three stories decorated with Paris porcelain, New Orleans silver, and French-inspired paintings. It is furnished to give a glimpse of what middle-upper class family life in mid-19th century New Orleans looked like. The second museum we went to was the National World War II Museum. The way this museum worked was very unique - with the purchase of a ticket, visitors are given a "dog tag," and required to board a train. On the train, they are assigned a WWII veteran to follow and as they visit the entire museum, they scan their dog tag to follow their character's story thru different time periods of the war. The veteran that I personally got to follow was Ernie Pyle, an American journalist and war correspondent who covered the lives of American troops on the front lines of North Africa. The third museum we visited was Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, which allowed us to see the floats used to celebrate the Mardi Gras festival as they were being stored off-season. I had never participated in a parade or seen a real-life float before, so I had fun seeing some of the best ones here for the first time. The museum gave us Mardi Gras beads to use as tickets and the opportunity to change into some costumes and hats for a quick photo op. After we learned about how the individual floats were made (the floats are created from stacked sheets of styrofoam! crazy!), our tour guide served us king cake, a traditional cinnamon carnival dessert.
Over the course of our trip, we hit up quite a few parks that helped to give us a different side of New Orleans. Just within steps of the French Quarter, there are two small parks to visit. On one end, there's Woldenberg Park, located along the Mississippi River near the dock for Steamboat Natchez. In the opposite direction is the Louis Armstrong Park, named after the influential American jazz musician. This one's nice because it's close to the French Quarter, yet removed from the busy touristy streets. We were lucky that Nick lived close to a park in Uptown NOLA, Audubon Park. This one was very relaxing to walk through with lagoons filled with turtles swimming around and geese waddling about. Super pretty! Another park we got to visit was New Orleans City Park. Like Audubon, it was also filled with oak trees, lagoons, picturesque bridges, and plenty of park benches. But this one's definitely a lot bigger with the New Orleans Museum of Art, cafes, and attractions such as pedal boating. While we were there, we walked through a sculpture garden with tons of neat artwork, including a giant clothes pin and ladder that lead up to a floating window.
Here are some other activities we did. One of my favorite parts of the trip was kayaking through a bayou located an hour from New Orleans - it was a lot of fun maneuvering our kayaks in between trees growing out of waters covered with tiny green plants all over the surface! Another favorite part of the trip was visiting Frenchmen Street (which I enjoyed way more than the famous Bourbon Street). We took part in the nightlife there by visiting the Frenchmen Art Market, where locals sell authentic artwork, and then spent the rest of the evening at The Maison, a bar and live music venue where we listened to some awesome jazz music. Lastly, there are so many festivals happening over the weekends in New Orleans and we actually got to be there for one - the 96th annual Creole Tomato Festival - held at the French Market.
The food scene there is HUGE. There are so many different Creole and Cajun style restaurants and just too many things to try. I've been telling people I could totally go on another trip back to NOLA and still find a new set of restaurants to eat at every meal. Here are just some of the restaurants we ate at and what I got to try: Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar - shrimp & grits, Acme Oyster House - New Orleans medley of gumbo/jambalaya/red beans over rice, 801 Royal - shrimp nachos and po'boy sandwich, Mother's Restaurant - jambalaya, Royal House - gumbo and jambalaya. Basically, while others of our group were ordering shrimp etouffee or fried chicken, I was busy ordering jambalaya almost every meal and loved it! Clay and I bought some Cajun seasoning and jambalaya mix back home and I can't wait to try making it. However, my absolute favorite meal was a crawfish boil we had consisting of seasoned crawfish, sausage, corn, and potatoes served right in Nick's apartment living room! Nick and Iana were so wonderful to prep all this for us. Nick literally poured out a grocery bag size full of crawfish across his entire coffee table and told us to dig in. I don't even like seafood, but I enjoyed every bit of this experience of gathering and feasting together. Finally, I'll end this post with a quick note on how New Orleans satisfied my ginormous sweet tooth: I had beignets three times, bread pudding three times, sampled some pralines...all while still dreaming of trying the bananas foster at Brennan's, sno-ball at Hansen's Sno-Bliz, and ice cream at Creole Creamery.
As you can see, there is just too much to see/hear/eat/explore/experience/learn about in this very unique city!
Ever since I was little, my family never really traveled too much. People are usually surprised to hear that I have not been to Taiwan before, where my dad was born and where most of his family still resides. My parents never took us on any big vacation. I have never been to Hawaii, Alaska, boarded any type of cruise, or been part of one of those big Asian tours in Europe.
But growing up, one thing our family did share together was our family camping trips. When my sister and I were younger, my dad would pitch a tent up in our backyard for us to play in and we would think it was the funnest thing ever. When we were older, my dad started collecting gear and booking reservations for campsites in Yosemite. One year, he even invested in a big inflatable raft so my mom, my sister, and I could float down the rivers at Yosemite. (I actually have a funny story about this: Once I got out of the raft midway to play on an island and totally got left behind, because the river currents were so strong they just carried my mom and sister away as the raft continued to flow forward...That's how I came to learn that rivers flow one direction :P) Anyway, whether it was Yosemite or Lake Tahoe, my dad would always plan everything - the reservations, the food for the meals, and the packing of camping essentials. It was unfortunate that it got to a point where I took these small family camping trips for granted. I didn't acknowledge all the hard work being put into the planning and the physical work my parents exerted over the long hours spent driving and hiking, just so my sister and I could get a taste of the great outdoors...or simply so we could all share time together as a family. I don't think I had the chance to realize what these trips truly meant to me until recently, after Clay and I started this camping-once-a-month project.
That's why this past weekend was a very special camping trip for me. It was the first trip that I planned (with Clay) for my family. Clay booked the campsite at Butano and I told them that we would do all the meal planning, take care of the usual logistics, and that all they had to bring was themselves! It ended up being an amazing time for all of us. Both of my parents were so excited, it was so cute. They enjoyed all the meals we cooked (including the caramelized pork belly pasta pictured above) and I super enjoyed spoiling them. They got to try out Clay's new parachute hammock and loved it. The state park itself treated us first-time visitors so well. Right beside our campsite was this small lake with a huge log floating in the middle of it. Clay named it 酱油湖 (Soy Sauce Lake), because the water was so dark that it gave a perfect reflection! We only had time to hike the Six Bridges Trail, but it was so gorgeous with its breath-taking redwoods. The trail brought us to a little wooden amphitheater and then lead us down to Butano Creek. The whole camp, tucked away in a canyon, was very family-friendly. It was the perfect place for me to continue our family tradition and express a small token of my appreciation to my parents for all the past camping trips I've been blessed to have growing up.
Just capturing as I go.