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Winter Road Trip - Kick Scooting in New Orleans

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 1/27/2011 - www.Littleviews.com ]

The following articles were initially a part of blog related to a road trip that took place between December 17, 2010 and January 2, 2011.
Winter Road Trip from Racine to Little Rock

Kick Scooting in San Antonio

Kick Scooting in New Orleans

Change of direction . . . we're now in New Orleans

DECEMBER 26, 2010: Instead of backtracking to Wisconsin by way of Hot Springs after leaving our family in Austin, we decided to travel to New Orleans. A mere 500 miles south, we left Austin at 8AM by car and arrived in New Orleans at 6:30PM.

We hastily made our hotel arrangements last night via Travelocity's Top Secret Hotels deal and discovered that we booked the conveniently located InterContinental New Orleans, a swank establishment that probably doesn't often see the likes of us. The dressiest clothing I've packed was an extra sweatshirt. The bellhop who brought our luggage to our room fell in love with my 3-wheel scooter, but lamented that it was made in China. He went on to say that products like these should be made in the US and, besides, we would do a better job of it. Can't say I disagree.

The InterContinental charges for Internet connections everywhere except in designated lobbies. Fortunately, there are numerous wireless signals permeating our room, allowing us to happily surf while avoiding the hotel's *$6* an hour charge. Too bad the sharply-dressed executive who checked out as we were checking in didn’t know about this. He railed away at the desk clerk about usurious Internet fees, ending his tirade by saying that he’d never book at an InterContinental again.

New Orleans: The always crowded Cafe Du Monde

The temperature tonight is 36 degrees, but tomorrow should be a sunny 50. I hope to take advantage of the heat wave to scoot along the Mississippi on the southern end of the French Quarter, making sure to visit the Cafe Du Monde for its hot beignets (fried dough dusted with powdered sugar) and coffee (if we can get in).

New Orleans, Beignets, and Magazine Street

DECEMBER 27, 2010: At 10:00AM on our first day in New Orleans, we happily set off for the famous Café Du Monde to dine on their beignets, only to be stopped by a block-long line of waiting customers. We checked back throughout the day and early evening, only to find that the line was always the same length or longer. The Haack’s, our traveling companions, did manage to get a table about 3:45PM, but once inside, waited over an hour to be served.

Today's dining highlights were at Laura’s Candies, were we sampled and ultimately purchased fresh pralines, and The Crescent City Brewhouse, which seems like a standard brew pub, but actually features beautifully served food.

New Orleans: Mark Bercier of Café Baby – 12/2010

During our travels, I met artist Mark Bercier of Café Baby. He is famous for his appealingly simple and happy compositions that are assembled from a pallet of 26 icons, a few of which can be seen in the yellow dress painting and around the portrait, above. His entire body of work was inspired by watching his daughter, Caroline (pictured), grow up. The Baby portion of his gallery’s name refers to his primary icon. Café refers to visual food for one’s imagination. Hungry for happiness? Make a point of visiting his gallery at 237 Chartres Street.

I spent the rest of the day trying to discover good places to scoot. Needless to say, any areas thick with pedestrians are not. Of course, no adult wants to scoot in a boring-but-isolated area just to roll along. Fortunately, I found that the sidewalks around the Garden District's Audubon Park and beautiful residential streets are beautiful places to explore.

We walked/scooted back to our hotel from Audubon Park along the periodically lumpy sidewalks of Magazine Street. That street features areas dotted with fascinating boutiques, dining, and homemade candy, plus New Orleans-style houses. As Magazine Street is six miles long (and we put on several extra miles poking around side strets), we finished its last two miles by bus.

Although Magazine Street lacks iconic sites, it features many small businesses, a number of which have interesting signs and murals that provide great photo ops.

Mural just off Magazine Street in New Orleans. December 2010

In my opinion, cities should be known by the creative work of their residents, and not just by architecture and iconic buildings.

New Orleans; Old World Casting Company, December 2010

The picture above is just one of many funny gargoyles and garden statues created by the Old World Casting Company.

Sign for DK&S, Counselors at Law, New Orleans. December 2010

It’s quite obvious from the sign above that even professional practices, in this case the office of DK&S, Counselors at Law, can provide a lot of visual fun.

Note: in 2011, portions of Magazine Street's road will be under construction. Possibly the best way to see the area might be by scooter.

Exploring the French Quarter

DECEMBER 28, 2010: We successfully ate hot beignets today at the Royal Street location of the Café Beignet, which is open from 8AM to 3PM. Service was slow, but crowding wasn't as bad as it was at the more famous Café Du Monde on Decatur Street, which is open 24/7. On weekends, the Café Beignet's second location on Bourbon Street is open in the evening and features jazz.

And what are the differences between competing beignets? The Café Du Monde's beignets are free-formed and lumpy, while the Café Beignet's beignets are uniformly rectangular.

After wiping an excess of beignet powdered sugar off my face and hands, I experimented with scooting around the French Quarter and once again found that it is difficult to roll during tourist crowded periods. I had hoped that I’d find more room on New Orleans’ Riverwalk, which is a mile stretch of sidewalk running between the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. During rare instances, I did have the walk to myself, but for the most part, it was filled with tourists. It is, however, a perfect place to scoot early in the morning.

New Orleans Riverwalk – 12/2010

Frankly, if kick scooters became commonly seen on tourist-heavy sidewalks, an ordinance would probably be enacted to forbid their use. That said, novice drivers on 100+ pound Segways actively roll around the French Quarter's sidewalks and streets. If a pedestrian was to be hit by a two-wheeled vehicle, I think that person would be better off being struck by a 15-pound kick scooter than by a Segway.

The little kick scooting I did, however, allowed me to cover more ground than normal with more comfort. Blissfully, Royal Street was closed for several blocks, so I breezed right along. Among the sights I saw today were:

New Orleans French Market area – 12/2010

. . . restored, old warehouses in the French Market area. The one seen above housed a large art gallery.

New Orleans street musicians – 12/2010

. . . numerous street musicians. Pictured above is a saw and guitar combo.

New Orleans French Quarter dwelling – 12/2010

. . . stunning dwellings. Because it is December, lavish floral displays cascading from balconies are missing. Come spring, flowers reappear, framing the French Quarter with hanging gardens.

Note: Tomorrow we head home with two, ten-hour days of car travel required to reach Racine, followed by another day of travel to Weehawken, NJ. That said, currently New York and New Jersey are experiencing the heaviest snowfall in ages, area airports are closed, flights are cancelled, and people are stranded. Somehow, driving for hours in our cushy car doesn’t seem so bad.

Recap: Rolling to the end of this trip's road

JANUARY 2, 2011: Plan Changes: Our original plan was to drive no longer than four to five hours every other day, starting and returning to Racine. As it turned out, our travel companions wanted to visit New Orleans. This change resulted in three, ten-hour trips during a five-day period. We used the first day driving to New Orleans from Austin, and the second two days, returning to Racine. A day after arriving in Racine, my husband and I drove an additional 15 hours during our return to Weehawken, NJ.

Long drives executed during very short time-periods can be done, and they are not necessarily uncomfortable, but I don't recommend them! In our favor, GPS use meant that we never made a wrong turn (common in the paper map-dependant days) and our travel times were predictable.

Scooting: The primary purpose of our trip was to connect with family. The secondary purpose for me was to determine whether kick scooting could benefit touring by covering more area normally walked and with greater comfort. What I learned is that scooter explorations are ideal during mornings, before tourist activity grows heavy, and that the physical exercise of scooting is thoroughly invigorating. I'll discuss my experiences in another article dedicated to the subject.

Traveling in Winter: I am a Northern-girl who always fancied the South as the lush, flower-infused tropics. I learned, however, that the South turns brown during the winter, with patches of flower-dotted-green the result of manual labor, not nature. Horticultural efforts along San Antonio's Riverwalk made it lovely to see, but not nearly as lovely as it is during the late spring through fall. Likewise, the winter grounds surrounding the Clinton Museum and Heifer International in Little Rock are bleak compared with spectacular displays during the warmer seasons. The landscape in New Orleans' French Quarter is vigilantly attended year around, and consequently, the area maintains enough green to make it lively. Lavish floral arrangements known to cascade over the city's second-story porches, unfortunately, are largely missing.

Dining: Many people believe that touring small, undistinguished towns and back roads is a plus. I've never found that to be true. To test whether my perception is wrong, we did eat at a small town's locally owned and managed diner, thereby missing a gourmet experience by a long shot. How long? Consider that no one on the waitstaff or the owner knew what butter was and how butter was related to the dairy industry. To a person, they thought the product was margarine. During our visit, we were not able to resolve this issue with them.

Buying Gifts and Personal Treasures: Now that most cities have been malled, products tend to be the same from place to place. Unless you find unique crafts that are not "made-in-China" replicas, or love browsing in art galleries, it's hard to get enthused about shopping opportunities. That said, seeking out and buying locally-made canned goods, candy, wine, and beer is a winning activity.

Hotels: If the city or locality warrants it, it is worth staying at lodging that is central to a view or regional activities. Unfortunately, if you are unfamiliar with the city, a great location is difficult to pinpoint. To help find a great place, sight unseen, check traveler reviews, such as on Travelocity.com, paying attention to the Location rating. If you are on a tight budget, only check the rates of lodging in the best locations. Never make a judgment on rates alone and don't be fooled to automatically think that a "4-star" hotel is the best, or a "2-star" hotel is the worst.

Maps: Before you leave, visit www.ResortMaps.com and order one or more of their (free but for postage) maps. If they have maps that cover your destinations, you may find them more informational than traditional tourist brochures.

Things Remembered: I covered the highlights in my blog. I'm particularly impressed, however, with feeling refreshed during those periods when I could use my kick scooter, learning how fond I've become of Leah's Pralines, which are made in New Orleans, and discovering that prime rib dinners continue to be excellent at the Corner House Restaurant in Racine, WI, the city of my birth!

Questions? Just ask!
Karen Little

The following articles were initially a part of blog related to a road trip that took place between December 17, 2010 and January 2, 2011.
Winter Road Trip from Racine to Little Rock

Kick Scooting in San Antonio

Kick Scooting in New Orleans

Article and photographs by Karen Little. First published on www.Littleviews.com on 1/27/2011. All rights reserved.

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