Monday, August 29, 2011

Across the River to Algiers Point

The Vallette-Barrett Plantation House on Pelican Avenue

Today we hopped in the car and started driving with no destination in mind. Heading toward downtown New Orleans, we made a split second decision to cross the Crescent City Connection when the bridge appeared in the distance. The first exit on the Westbank may not stand out as a tourist destination, but veer off General DeGaulle, follow the road past Federal City to the river and you arrive at Algiers Point.

Tout de Suite Cafe
Touted as the second oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, Algiers Point sits directly across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. Originally the site of a slaughterhouse used by French settlers in the 1700s, today the area, with its tree-lined streets leading past homes and stores as old as the 1840s, reminded us of a smaller version of Uptown New Orleans.

We dropped in Tout de Suite Cafe for a quick iced coffee, but their appetizing muffins and croissants convinced us to stay for a second breakfast. While we ate, three-year-old Charles entertained other patrons by dancing a little jig to the live guitar music. When he decided the show was over, he darted out the door with us tailing behind.

Confetti Park
A few blocks down Verret Street, and we hit the jackpot with a small playground. Confetti Park, with its whimsical fence and mosaic walkway, is complete with slides, swings and ride-on toys. Here, Baby August bounced around on a bug car, while Charles blackened his fingernails by filling a dump truck with dirt.

Strapping them in their strollers, we walked past colorful plantations, shotguns and creole cottages. We had stopped to comment on the architecture when we heard a child's squeal of delight. On the tree next to us was the empty shell of a cicada, which is now crouched on my coffee table staring at me with its sightless round eyes. A bug catcher on our bookshelf houses a dozen of his friends, the fruits of our walk turned scavenger hunt.

Old Masonic Hall on Olivier Street
As we wove up and down streets looking for the critters, we caught the attention of one gentleman who, noticing our random path through town, asked if we were visiting and offered us a brochure. In this community where everyone knows each other, a family of new faces stood out immediately. We chatted a while and found out his house on Olivier Street was once a former Masonic Temple later used as a dance hall where early Jazz musician Buddy Bolden played.

Our walk ended by a focal point of the neighborhood--Holy Name of Mary Church, an imposing Gothic church with 75 stained glass windows crafted in Germany. We drove out of town along the river, viewing New Orleans' skyline from across the water. As we headed back to the bridge, a line of people waited to board the free passenger ferry ($1 roundtrip for vehicles), which would carry them from "The Point" to the foot of Canal Street.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Art and Planes in New Orleans' Warehouse District

One of several Walter Anderson paintings on display at the Ogden
The air conditioning is running nonstop these days. I find as I get older, I have less tolerance for the heat, while the kiddos seem to be oblivious to it. In a desperate effort to keep them inside, I was allowing them to empty my tupperware drawer into a chaotic pile across my kitchen floor. By the time they were pretending to "swim" in it, I felt an urge to visit someone else's indoor playground. The museums in New Orleans' warehouse district were beckoning us, and we answered the call.

Airplanes inside the World War II Museum
We wheeled the strollers into the National World War II Museum first. While I wouldn't consider the museum's solemn hallways as suitable for two small children, the airplane-filled lobby is eye candy to them. It's free to step inside and stroll around the planes, tanks and Higgins boat displayed in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. For those without small kids - and with several hours to spare - it's worth the admission to take a complete tour of the museum, including the 4-D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, showing in the Solomon Victory Theater.

Confederate Museum and Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Across the street, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's modern building is home to a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs and everything in between - all created by Southern artists. Charles particularly loves coming here on Thursday evenings, when he can dance to live music and try his hand at his own art project. It was much quieter during our visit today, however, and we took our time wandering through the galleries. A must-see is the colorful watercolors, oil paintings and drawings of two Gulf Coast artists, John Alexander and Walter Anderson, on exhibit now. Our visits here always end with a stop on the roof, where you can see expansive views of the city.

For lunch, we crossed back to the World War II Museum's American Sector restaurant, where Chef John Besh whips up tongue sandwiches alongside hearty American dishes. Kid's meals are served in old school lunch boxes, complete with a toy surprise.

Upon leaving, we debated whether to head to one of the other museums in walking distance. The Confederate Museum and the Contemporary Arts Center are both fascinating in their own way, while the kids would have been thrilled to go to the Louisiana Children's Museum. But a meltdown from one kid and a yawn from the other made our decision to save those for next time.