Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Closer look at City Park

Antique carousel in the Amusement Park
Journalist Chris Rose was on the news the other night expounding on how most people don't play tourist in their own city. He, for example, had never been to the World War II Museum or Preservation Hall. While I had both of these covered, there were some places in New Orleans still left to discover. Take City Park. I have probably been there hundreds of times and, despite Charles' wide-eyed, open-mouthed stare every time the pint-sized train tooted past us, I had never ridden with him on it. So today we were taking a concentrated section of the park and exploring its full potential.

Miniature train garden in the Botanical Garden
We started off low-key with a leisurely stroll through the Botanical Garden. (A useful tip, buy a City Park membership, and enjoy free admission to the Botanical Garden, Storyland and the Amusement Park.) Built by the Works Project Administration (WPA), the Garden takes you on a winding journey past fish ponds, a rose garden, ancient live oaks, a butterfly garden, a Japanese tea garden and much more. Flowing sculptures by Enrique Alferez hold prominent spots among the vibrant flowers.

A favorite of my three-year-old was the tropical rainforest, where a surprise snake hides deep within the waterfall's cavern. The only way we could lure him away was by tempting him with the hunt for lizards in the cactus garden. The final stop was the miniature train garden featuring small streetcars and trains chugging along amidst carved New Orleans homes and buildings. It's the perfect place to build anticipation and excitement over the upcoming train ride.
Mother Goose takes flight in Storyland

A short walk down the road past a giant Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty lies the entrance to Storyland - a whimsical playground for young children. While Charles pretended to be Captain Hook battling Peter Pan on board the pirate ship, August came out of his usual Moby-wrap induced sleep and opened one eye to peer warily at the Big Bad Wolf hiding in Grandma's House. From Pinocchio's whale to the old lady who lived in a shoe, every childhood fairytale memory was vividly brought to life.

City Park's train
Storyland's back gate opens up into an amusement park complete with a roller coaster, twirling and spinning rides and country fair-style games. The lights and sounds were still scary to the eyes of a toddler, so we bypassed it all heading to the far side of the park. Only the carousel, exquisitely restored after Katrina, caused a slight pause in reaching our destination. But when we saw the crowd boarding the train, we ran to catch up and grabbed two seats near the very back.

With a blow of its whistle, the train pulled out onto the tracks, taking us on a sightseeing tour of the south side of the park. We waved at bystanders, pointed out the swans relaxing under a bridge and watched the streetcar clatter by on Carrollton Avenue. The duration was just perfect as attention spans were maxing out right as we pulled alongside the Botanical Gardens and soon slowed to a stop.

Irises blooming in the Sculpture Garden
Breaking for a snack and juice, we enjoyed two minutes of relaxation before carrying on to one of my favorite places in City Park - the Sculpture Garden. Anything goes here in this artistic haven, from monkeys morphing into humans and an enormous spider with spindly legs to blue dogs and oversized Mardi Gras beads in trees. April is iris time in south Louisiana, and we were greeted with a rainbow of blooming irises gracing the edge of the water that cuts a path through the sculptures.

It was a packed morning and early afternoon, but for once, we made it home in time for a late lunch and Charles' nap. Meanwhile, my daydreams of catching a few minutes of shut eye were dashed once I realized, after having slept through most of our day's adventures, August was now rearing to go...

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