Today is the first official day of fall! Even if you did not know that yesterday was the autumn equinox, you can still feel that summer is quickly fading and the season is changing. The signs are everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The air is a little cooler and moister, the days are noticeably getting shorter, the leaves are just starting to turn from greens to fiery reds and bright yellows, Starbucks is serving their delicious seasonal spiced pumpkin lattes, and the boys are back in school. We are definitely sensing autumn is coming.
Even though we have enjoyed spending falls and winters in tropical climates, we always missed autumn for some reason. Maybe because the landscape becomes painted in bright autumn hues transforming it into a surreal vibrantly colored fantasy world. Maybe because you can sense the specialness of the impending holidays which bring back fond childhood memories. Maybe because change always creates an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Whatever the reason, falls are truly spectacular here. This is my favorite time of the year to brave the chill and go outside to enjoy nature’s art work. There are numerous places to go to enjoy harvest fairs, pumpkin patches, and fall festivals while soaking in the magnificent scenery.
Now that we are back in Washington state for a while, we are excited to re-explore some of our family traditions during this time of the year. No place is more special to us than the Olympic Peninsula (please read our article about it to learn more). We just came back from a short weekend stay there to get away from the business of life in the city. It is a place where we feel at home despite traveling the world. One of our favorite fall destinations on the peninsula is the Sequim Pumpkin Patch.
Our boys, Aaron and Elijah, have fond memories of this perennial favorite. The Sequim Pumpkin Patch has something to offer everyone in the family. For the kids, there is the enormous corn maze. The corn maze there is not for the directionally challenged. If you easily get lost without your GPS, map, or road signs, then you might want to stay out of it. The maze is usually thematic. One year it was The Wizard of Oz theme. The maze path actually spelled out “THE WIZZARD OF OZ” along with symbols and pictures. The boys love running through it trying to find all of the hidden markers. If you find all of them, you win a prize. Amazingly, people pay to get lost while I do this for free all of the time. Entrance is free, but attractions are individually priced $3.00 to $5.00.
They also have giant sling-shots suspended from telephone poles which you use to launch pumpkins into the air to try to land in a barrel out in the middle of a field. I have yet to win the $100 prize for marksmanship, but it is fun to try anyway. There is something about watching pumpkins fall to Earth and splat like giant orange meteors I find exhilarating. It’s probably a guy thing. Of course for the more traditional pumpkin enthusiast they also have tractor rides, farm animal petting, hot chocolate and fresh apple cider with kettle corn and other treats, holiday gift barn, and more. I think my wife most enjoys watching her “three boys” run around. Oh yes, they also have a pumpkin patch where we pick our pumpkin for carving later.
Now that we are living on the “East Side,” we have found a closer pumpkin paradise called Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington. Remlinger Farms takes the traditional pumpkin patch up a notch. The $13.85 entrance fee is a little steep, but worth it. It has an inflatable spooky house, kids’ carnival rides, a real steam engine train, pony rides, and exhibits. The boys and I like the homemade warm doughnuts the best, nice touch! Maybe we like the seasonal favorite foods the best. For a complete list of pumpkin patches, go to The Thrifty NW Mom.
After finding the perfect pumpkin to carve into the family Jack-O’Lantern, our oldest son likes to test his bravery by finding the scariest haunted house to visit. This year we will see if he dared Hauntownsend Carnival of the Twilight in Port Townsend, Washington, on the peninsula. This is not just a haunted house, but an entire haunted carnival at the Jefferson County fairgrounds! Clowns are scary enough in the circus, let alone at night in an abandoned carnival. I’m guessing that Aaron will not sleep for a week afterwards! For a complete list of haunted attractions in Washington, check out the Haunted Houses website.
Probably the most authentic haunted experience you can have in Washington is the original Ghost Tours of Pioneer Square. The tour takes you through the haunted side of Seattle. Their “master storytellers will frighten and chill you to the bone as you are guided through the streets, alleys, and dark shadows of Pioneer Square. Hear the incredible events of people stuck in the mysterious world of the undead.” For $16.00 per person, you can be scared out of your skin! For another hair-raising experience, you can try the Spooked in Seattle Tour or Market Ghost Tours, if you dare. All of the tours take you to places normally visitors to our fair city never see, like the old city of Seattle underground and the original morgue. You can find out why we have a reputation for paranormal activity!
For those of us who enjoy the less macabre side of the season, there are numerous places to take long walks to revel in the autumn foliage. One of my wife and my favorite walks is along the Olympic Discovery Trail on the peninsula. This 130 mile long paved trail connects Port Townsend with Forks, Washington. It meanders through the north slope of the Olympic Peninsula between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Our favorite part starts from just east of Port Angeles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, head out to the coast, and follows the shore line into town. The trail passes over Morse Creek by an old restored train trestle, through dense fern clad gullies, and by the rocky shores of the strait. We usually see deer, otters, seals, eagles, and heron as we walk. Walks with my wife do not get better than that! We normally walk there and back again for a rejuvenating flat 8 mile round trip.
So, whether you like having family fun at the traditional pumpkin patch, being scared senseless in haunted houses, or just wandering through fall colors, western Washington has many things to offer. October is usually a great month here. By the end of the month, nights will start to turn cold, as Aaron and Elijah can attest to by trick-or-treating in heavy coats and thermal underwear. November will bring the start of the rains. However, by December, the mountains will once again be clad in snow singling another change is happening as we move into winter. I will have to write to tell you about all the wonderful things to do around Christmas here! I admit, I do love having the four seasons.
We leave for Annapolis, Maryland, Saturday! This will be a conflicting emotional trip for us. We bought four tickets to Washington D.C., but only three returning tickets to Seattle. We will leave Aaron behind to embark on his own adventure as a new Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is starting a life apart from us. Even though we know that children growing up and leaving home is the inevitable natural course of events in life, we are still trying to accept it. We are very happy for him and extremely proud. I just cannot believe that the day is almost here when he will be going away. I will greatly miss his presence around the home. Ironically, he is leaving the week after Father’s Day.
He has been my “Little Buddy” for 18 years. I remember when we brought him home from the hospital. We were new parents without a clue as to what to do with our new bundle of joy. We put him on our bed and just stared at him transfixed while he slept.
For all of the mistakes I made along the way, I am sorry Aaron. After all, you were my first go around at being a father. You were the prototype, son 1.0. I have tried to do better with son 2.0, Elijah. Hopefully, you will only remember the good things I did.
Some of the bad things will fade from memory in time, or with some professional counseling. I am sorry for the time that we woke up in the middle of the night in January freezing because the heat went out. We rushed to your crib worried that you were a frozen popsicle. Luckily, you were sleeping soundly despite the sub-zero temperature, or at least too cold to cry.
There was also that time that we took you camping in the mountains. You rolled off your mat in the night. Mom panicked when she could not find you in the dark. Again, you were sound asleep on the cold tent floor. I guess you built up a tolerance for the cold growing up.
I remember the time that you snuck out of the yard gate. I assumed you were quietly playing in your sand box. I was wrong. I saw the open gate and frantically chased after you down the street. You streaked in your diaper two blocks before I caught you. You giggled the whole way back home. Yes, that was a very funny prank on your dad. Good joke.
How many miles did you ride in your pack on my back? There were many times I felt like a Nepalese sherpa. You got heavy! I was relieved when you could hike on your own. I was even more relieved that you didn’t try to run off anymore. Either you got faster of I got slower.
I took you to your hernia surgery when you were just five. I sat next to you as the anesthesia took effect. As you drifted off, I had the worst feeling in my stomach that you would not wake up again. Thankfully, you did, groggy and a little loopy. Even though you don’t remember much about the operation probably, I do. It was one of the longest hours of my life.
Yes, I made you walk back to the car when you fell off your bike. How was I supposed to know that your arm was broken? I did fix your bike though. Luckily mom was more medically inclined and suggested we take you to the emergency room. I learned that kids’ bodies heal faster than dad’s consciences.
I really appreciated your help coaching the swim team. I picked you up right after kindergarten and took you to practice. You did a great job imitating me. You really got my style down. My swimmers followed your every word. I think, however, that you made them do more push-ups then me and I never did get me whistle back.
You loved for me to chase you through the castle at the playground. We would spend afternoons playing tag. You were very understanding and patient when I gave myself a concussion hitting my head on the low beams. It would not have been as bad if had I only done it once instead of three times.
I was so excited to take you to your first Cub Scout meeting that I forgot you really didn’t know anything about Scouting. I am glad that you played along. We have had some great memories in Scouts. We built a few champion Pine Wood Derby cars! I was extremely proud when you earned your Eagle Scout. I did note, however, that despite being the parent who went on all of the camp outs, including the rainy, cold ones, you thanked mom first.
I taught you how to use power tools. I am sorry that you had to see me cut the tip of my finger off on the table saw. I was trying to show you what not to do. I hope you were paying attention. At least I now know that you really don’t like the site of blood. But, you know your way around an emergency room. How many times did we go?
I taught you how to drive too. Ok, allowing you to drive on the open road without a permit or formal training may not have been my brightest decision, but you quickly learned how to do it. You may borrow mom’s car when you’re home from the academy by the way.
You eagerly listened while I taught you how to swim, fish, camp, build models, play chess, tie a tie, shave, and properly wear a suit. I hope those skills come in handy some day. I tutored you in math, science, history, English, and a host of other knowledge. You even listened to me tell old navy stories and get on my political soap box at times. Despite my help, you did very well in school.
You followed me around as I fixed things and made home improvements. Someday, you might do the same with your son. Try not to use the vocabulary that I accidentally taught you, sorry about that by the way too. Admit it, the wood flooring that took us three weeks to complete looks good. You can also confidently say that you know how to use a plunger and what a stud finder is for.
You helped me build my kayak in the cold garage after work and school for six months too. That was the best Father’s Day present ever. When it was finally finished, I paddled you all over the place so you could see starfish, sea anemones, sea lions, fish, and more. I must apologize for leading you on. I hope you don’t mind some of the wild stories I made up about pirate treasure and Indians as we explored the coastal waters.
I know that most kids want toys and stuff for their birthdays. We believe that experiences are far more valuable. So, I know you might have wanted that X-Box instead of the flying lessons, but you can say that you flew a plane before you drove a car. Even though I arranged it, I will now admit that I was very glad that mom went with you the first time you piloted.
How was I supposed to know that building and launching all of those model rockets would foreshadow your future aspirations? We had a lot of fun though!
If my Navy stories inspired you to consider the Naval Academy, I am sorry about that too. I never tried to pressure you into anything, but instead inspire you and fuel your dreams. I took your desire to fly and become an astronaut seriously. I did not ever dismiss it as a mere child’s dream. If others do, remember I always have total confidence in you. So, I am sorry to push you to strive for more than just ordinary. Someone has to be first on Mars anyway.
We disrupted your life and dragged you to live in foreign countries. I loved watching you explore castles, museums, cathedrals, mountains, jungles, and beaches all over the world. Your face lit up when we went looking for the mythical burial chamber of Merlin in England. I think you had some good times. You learned a lot if nothing else. You know how to navigate your way around some airports, train stations, ferry terminals, and highways.
Maybe sometimes I did live my life through you. I always wanted a hobbit hole. Now we have one! I recommend a tree house or swing-set for your children, much easier. Mom could use it as a garden shed now that you are grown-up? Not!
I sincerely appreciate watching Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Blues Brothers, and Leslie Neilson movies with me. Unfortunately, my warped sense of humor may have rubbed off on you. You can watch dramas with mom.
I really did try to not embarrass you in front of your friends in high school. I only cheered at your cross-country and track meets when no one was looking. OK, I bragged a little too much at times. I tried not to mention you during my veteran’s speech at your school, but failed. Next time you will be able to give the speech because soon you will be a fellow veteran.
Just because everyone knows that you are my son and doing amazing things does not necessarily mean that I talk too much about you. They somehow find out. Ok, maybe I am a little proud of you.
So, after all that and more please tolerate some last advice.
1. Just like the Cub Scout motto, always do your best. The last person you want to disappoint is yourself. It is better to reach for the stars and fail then to never try at all. You can live with failure, but quitting stays around.
2. Never give up on your dreams. Most people do. Live an extraordinary life. After all, you only get to do it once.
3. Do not give up your heart to easily. The right person will come by someday. Trust me, you will know her when she comes. That is why your mom and I are still together.
4. Always live the Scout oath. Corny maybe, but trusted wise words. Look at all the famous Scouts, they can’t all be wrong.
5. Pick your friends wisely. You will be defined by them. Remember the old adage, “It is hard to soar with eagles when you surround yourself with turkeys.” Turkeys get eaten anyway.
6. Remember your family. We will always be here for you no matter what. Where ever you go, you will always have a home. Your little brother will miss you too, even though he denies it now. You will miss him also. Trust me on this.
7. Believe you have a purpose in life, and work to discover it. This one thing is the cure for almost every problem. To quote the Bible: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
8. Life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride.
9. Never stop learning. There is more to know in our world then you could possibly ever remember. You cannot max out your brain.
10. Lastly, from Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” I only plagiarise from the best.
You can count on me to dispense more advice and wisdom whenever you need it, whether you ask or not. You are and will ever be my oldest son. I am extremely proud to say that. Thank you for letting me be your father.
One of the many benefits of modern technology is the closeness it has made in the world. Before the advent of the internet and television, disasters that struck in remote corners of the world went largely unheeded at home. While sitting comfortably in our living rooms, we did not think about the plight of people elsewhere. Ignorance was bliss.
Today, however, we are much more aware of others in distant lands. The internet and television bring foreign cultures and strangers into our homes so vividly that we can feel their pain. They become real people. We can empathize with their predicaments and feel sorry for their losses. Our common humanity is exposed as we listen and watch of the suffering of complete strangers and have sympathy for them.
We are now unavoidably conscious of events around the world. When disasters strike, we are transfixed by the events. Deep down, we know that tragedy can strike at home as easily as it can abroad. Their plight may someday be ours.
This phenomenon was clearly demonstrated with the unfortunate disaster in Nepal this Saturday. We watched the reports coming in on the news about the earthquake there. In case you have not heard, a 7.8 earthquake struck outside of the capital, Kathmandu. So far, the death toll is over 1,400 and climbing, including 10 buried under an avalanche triggered by the quake on Mount Everest. The victims are not just Napalese, they are from all over the world too.
Our youngest son, Elijah, has been deeply moved by the events. For some inexplicable reason, he has always been drawn to Nepal. He is fascinated by the country. He wears a hand-made bracelet from Nepal that he bought with his own money as a charity donation for poor villagers in the country. He even adopted a tiger in the jungle region of Nepal through a World Wildlife Fund program.
Not surprisingly, he really wants to do something to help the victims from the earthquake. His first though was to immediately fly to Nepal and help rebuild homes and schools. We had to tell him that at age 13 he was not going to take off alone to a disaster area, despite his eagerness. Undeterred, he is brainstorming other possibilities.
His sincere passion of wanting to do something for people on the other side of the planet is touching. His heart is as big as his ambitions. He does not see strangers, he sees people like him in much need of help. Imagine if everyone thought like that?
We will keep Nepal in our prayers.
You can help here:
The following is taken from Jacada Travel
Huffington Post Travel 08/15/2014
It is a sad reality that some of the world’s most beautiful sights are at risk of disappearing. Some of the world’s natural wonders are under threat from development, mass tourism and environmental change, making it crucial to travel to these places before it’s too late. Whether it’s ancient cultures and tribes to observe while they still exist, magnificent endangered wildlife to behold or some of Mother Nature’s finest creations to witness in their raw state, these are ten of our top places to visit now.
Perito Moreno Glacier (Calafate, Argentina)
The sublime Perito Moreno Glacier, though considered relatively stable, is a glacier that is still advancing and deserves a visit in the near future. Ice currently collapses from the tremendous structure and falls into the lake, an event considered to be truly breathtaking.
Ideally located in the heart of the Patagonian glacial region, close to Los Glaciares National Park, check into Estancia Cristina to make the most of this beautiful environment.
The Puna (Argentina)
For an authentic ‘out of this world’ experience, visit the Puna: one of the rare places on Earth with a completely vast, surreal and desolate landscape. This unchartered destination is unspoiled by groups of tourists so you can enjoy the serenity and untarnished beauty of this little known gem.
Enjoy unique geological formations, salt flats, sand dunes, striking clay deserts and more by staying at the El Penon, a quaint hotel surrounded by the Puna desert.
The Amazon (Ecuador)
The sheer scale of the Amazon is frequently underestimated. One of the eco-richest parts of the Amazon is in the Ecuadorian basin. New species are regularly being discovered in the depths of this natural wilderness: easily the Amazon’s best kept secret.
Live with the locals in the Huaorani Ecolodge with the traditional Amazonian tribe. Sheltered from civilisation and a maximum of 10 guests at a time, it’s difficult to get closer to the local lifestyle.
The Himba Tribe (Kaokoland, Namibia)
The Namibian nomadic Himba tribe is one of the stable remaining ethnic groups, unlike many other indigenous groups under threat in Africa. Travel to Namibia to see this remarkable tribe in their enchanting environment. The Himba people tend to their cattle and lead pastoral lives in the deserted plains of Kaokoland, sheltered from outside influences. This means you’ll get to experience their traditional lifestyle that they have successfully maintained.
Stay at the crux of the action in the Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, with the local Himba village in close proximity.
The Aisen region is barely touched by human presence. Instead, the landscape is wealthy with awesome marble caves, fjords, stunning ice fields (including the world’s third largest, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field), and is home to the second largest lake in South America. Hotels are sparse in this environment, which makes for a truly intimate experience with this stunning scenery.
The Hacienda Tres Lagos, nestled in an abundant forest adjacent to the shores of General Carrea Lake is the perfect stay to lap up the magnificent Patagonian surroundings.
Mountain Gorillas (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda)
Mountain Gorillas are majestic but rare creatures. This largest living primate is ranked as critically endangered due to uncontrolled hunting, war, disease and deforestation. There are around 800 left in the wild today, just over 400 of which are resident in Bwindi Forest which makes this southern point of Uganda in Great Rift Valley the place to go.
For the trip of a lifetime and the ultimate chance to see Mountain Gorillas, stay at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, a homely lodge with a particularly breathtaking view that spans over Rwanda all the way to the Congo.
Belize Barrier Reef (Belize)
Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. This natural system consists of seven sights, with one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world which is regrettably under threat and vulnerable. Oceanic pollution and increased temperatures are leading to coral bleaching which is why its imperative to see this extraordinary world heritage site sooner rather than later.
With seven private bungalows, the Cayo Espanto is an exclusive haven and island base to discover Belize’s waters.
Hill Tribes (Shan State, Myanmar)
Hill tribes in Burma are a prime example of cultures to see before they degenerate. Shan State is home to the oldest hill tribes: the most ancient indigenous peoples. Take the Palaung group for example, an ethnic minority with their own script and language, easy to recognise with their conventional colourful dress and famous for their tea. The hill tribes are worth visiting to absorb their heritage and traditional ways before mass tourism, modernity and development hits these sacrosanct groups.
Check into the dazzling Villa Inle to visit the Hill Tribes. This lakeside retreat offers 27 spacious villas to relax in after a long day of touring.
Orangutans (Sandakan, Borneo)
Orangutans, along with their natural habitat, are endangered. Due to a high demand for wood and products like palm oil, Borneo’s lowland forests are being cleared. This deforestation has resulted in the decline of the Bornean orangutan. These victims of logging and fire are the largest tree climbing mammals and are by far one of the most impressive and awesome animals to see.
Stay at the Abai Jungle Lodge, the comfortable and cosy lodge situated on Borneo’s Kinabatangan river, just an hour by boat from Sandakan: a prime location for wildlife.
If you’re in search of a place to completely disconnect and unwind, you’re spoilt for choice in Indonesia. Sumba is an island roughly twice the size of Bali and currently home to only one luxury hotel, meaning that you can revel in the idyll surroundings of rainforest, rice paddies and white sand coastlines while being exposed to the traditional Sumbanese culture.
Head to Indonesian paradise before mass tourism hits and stay at the distinctly private and deluxe Nihiwatu in Sumba.
Do you know of anywhere else at risk? We are voting to see which one our readers want to visit the most. Let us know!
Take care and safe family travels!
Spring means long walks in the woods!
Spring is here! The apple and cherry trees are already blossoming around Seattle and the weather is getting warmer. We did not have much of a winter anyway. I know people from the north eastern part of the country probably do not want to hear that. They are still digging out of seven plus feet of snow in 5°F weather. Sorry, not for me. I am not an Eskimo.
With our beautiful spring weather, I am enjoying getting outdoors and hitting the trails. Unlike those poor Bostonians, I do not have to wear snow shoes. There are more trails to hike and walk in western Washington than anyone could do in one life time. We try different ones all the time, but we also have our tried and true favorites.
If you are in the area, here are our best places to take a walk in the woods either by yourself or with the family.
1. Olympic Discovery Trail – Our favorite place to casually walk, jog, or bike.
Where: Jefferson and Clallam Counties on the north Olympic Peninsula
Length: Total length is 130 miles
Difficulty: easy (mainly flat)
Surface: mostly paved
Highlights: Old growth forests, spectacular water views, historic bridges over mountain rivers, wide variety of flora, possible animal sightings (deer, raccoons, otters, seals, sea lions, whales, eagles, hawks, and more)
Tips: Our favorite part of the long trail runs from Port Angeles six miles east to the train trestle. Stop at the Feiro Marine Life Center in town. You can have a pick-nick on the pier too. If you are really hungry, on Monday and Wednesday, Joshua’s serves excellent all you can eat fish-and-chips.
2. Preston-Snoqualmie Trail – Great year round
Where: King County starting at the small town of Preston
Length: 7 miles
Difficulty: easy (mainly flat)
Surface: all paved
Highlights: Dense secondary and primary forests, scenic river crossing, sneak peek at Snoqualmie Falls at the trail’s end
Tips: You must cross and follow a busy road at the half-way marker so be careful, bears have been sighted on the trail so be watchful too, there is a port-a-potty at the end and beginning
3. Rattlesnake Ridge – Beautiful views!
Where: King County, east of Issaquah exit 32 off I-90
Difficulty: Moderate (uphill)
Surface: dirt and packed gravel
Highlights: incredible views, beautiful mountain lake, dense forest, nice pick-nick and swimming area
Tips: You definitely want good walking/hiking shoes. If you climb to Angel’s Rest, you are in for a more strenuous 4 mile roundtrip hike, but the view is worth it. For a less energetic walk, follow the 3 mile trail along the lake.
4. Fort Townsend – A wonderful state park!
Where: Jefferson County in Port Townsend
Length: 6 miles
Difficulty: easy (flat)
Surface: packed dirt
Highlights: Amazing natural blooming rhododendron plants in the spring, dense forest, nice views of Puget Sound, some historic sites, large grass field for pick-nicks or playing
Tips: Take the whole perimeter trail for a great walk in the woods!
5. For Flagler State Park – One of our most favorite!
Where: Jefferson County, on Indian Island
Difficulty: easy (flat)
Surface: packed dirt
Highlights: Scenic views of Puget Sound, long beached, lighthouse, historic fort and museum, dense forest, large grassy fields, lots of wildlife (especially eagles).
Tips: Definitely take some time to explore the park. There is a nice little shop and café with a playground on the beach at the far end of the park. The museum is nice and has a scavenger hunt you can do to make the learning fun. They have lots of camping for tents and RV’s for a longer stay too.
Please let us know how you liked the trails or if you have another one to recommend.
A newly minted Eagle Scout!
I remember Aaron’s first Cub Scout meeting when he was just seven years old. The old cliche, “Kids grow up fast,” is true. He has gone from a Tiger Scout all the way to the highest rank possible in Boy Scouts, the coveted Eagle Scout. The journey to Eagle Scout is long, arduous, and trying, but definitely worth it. It is a life time achievement. We are very proud of him.
As we have family traveled around the world, Scouts has been one of the constants for both our boys. Scouts has given them many things. A Scout is
- and Reverent.
Aaron and Elijah both live these 12 time-honored characteristics. They will serve them well as they are now fastly becoming young men.
Good job Aaron!
Mom and Dad
The French Quarter
After the amazing Audubon Zoo experience, we headed for the historical French Quarter of New Orleans as we continued our family travels. The Big Easy has special fond memories for Mishele because she used to visit frequently when she lived in Mississippi. She was anxious to reconnect with the city.
The French Quarter, or officially known as the Vieux Carré, is the oldest part of the city of New Orleans. It includes the blocks along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (13 blocks) and inland to North Rampart Street (nine blocks). It totals a fairly large area of 78 square blocks, so bring your walking shoes. Luckily, it largely was spared any serious damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so it still preserves its characteristic old style architecture and charm.
Tip: In the summer, New Orleans will be crowded, hot, and humid, try off season.
The Quarter, as locals refer to it, is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, music venues, art galleries, and historic landmarks. It was acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Despite its name, most of the architecture is old-world Spanish. Some remnants, like the Saint Louis Cathedral, from its original French settlers are still visible. Most of the buildings date back to the late 18th century. The area as a whole is designated a National Historic Landmark. Walking around it really makes you feel like stepping back in time a little.
Our oldest son, Aaron, is a jazz music fanatic. He was very eager to see the birthplace of jazz. Many great pioneering jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, and Jelly Roll Morton started out playing in the clubs along the French Quarter. Historic places such as Preservation Hall, Latrobe’s, Snug Harbor, and the House of Blues are legendary hallowed halls where all serious jazz fans make a pilgrimage too. Aaron had them all mapped out. He was like a religious zealot in search of sacred shines.
First, however, the rest of us needed tangible nourishment. So, we headed to the world-famous Central Grocery to get a muffuletta. A traditional style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. Italian immigrants brought it to New Orleans in the 1920’s. It may just be the best sandwich in America! We went up unto the levee across the street to eat as we watched the mighty Mississippi River float by. I am not sure how many calories one is, but I did not care. They are amazingly delicious. Besides, with all of the walking that we are doing, I figured we would burn them off anyway.
After our impromptu pick-nick, we headed to Preservation Hall. Unfortunately, there was a movie being filmed there. Much to Aaron’s disappointment, we could not get in. He desperately tried to ask anyone if they could slip him in, but no luck. At least he got to have his picture taken with an unknown actor. Now, he will need to wait for the movie to come out to see who it was. I know he was hugely disappointed, but it is an excuse to go back some day.
Since we were striking out with historic landmarks, we decided just to meander around the area to check out the scenery. We found a really cool store along the way. It sold original autographed memorabilia from famous people. They had a signed Jimmy Hendrix guitar! They also had a book signed by all seven original NASA astronauts. Aaron, our Naval aviator hopeful, was awe struck by it. Elijah liked the signed Howard Hughes book and picture. I wanted the first edition The Wall album cover signed by all of the band members. Mish liked the autographed Chuck Yeager model aircraft of his sound-breaking X-1 Bell. If we each had a few thousand dollars, we all could have waked out of there with something memorable. Oh well.
You never know what you will find strolling along the French Quarter. Each corner has something different to offer. No matter where you go, however, you will see street performers and artists. New Orleans is a magnet for bohemian types. Local musicians perform some of the best authentic jazz music you will find anywhere. We stopped and listened to several of them. We were very impressed. This is what really separates New Orleans from other cities, its love affair with jazz. You can hear it everywhere. After a short while, we were all swinging and swaying to the hypnotic rhythm.
We worked up an appetite. The muffalettas had burned off, so we were in search of something else. Elijah really wanted to eat a Bubba Gump’s. This is the restaurant made famous by the Tom Hanks movie Forest Gump. We decided it was worth a try. The inside is filled with memorabilia from the movie. Even the menu is movie themed. We all had some variation of shrimp. The meal was delicious, but pricey. I guess you pay extra for the experience.
Mish wanted to find a late night desert of another New Orleans favorite, beignets. They are a French pastry made from deep-fried choux pastry dough and topped with powdered sugar. They are a tradition handed down from the city’s French ancestry. Café Monde on Canal Street serves the original, and best, beignets in the city. They are must with coffee when you visit.
One drawback with New Orleans with families is that the nightlife doesn’t start until after 8:00pm, at the earliest, and goes until dawn. This is great if you want to avoid the crowds and rowdiness that comes with the jazz scene, but bad if you are tired and do not want to stay up and walk anymore. After dark, The French Quarter takes on a completely different look. The jazz clubs open, the bars rev up, and the party starts! Even though Aaron really wanted to stay around, at 17 we thought it was best for him to wait until his next trip to the Big Easy.
We finally stopped for the day and headed back to the car. I must admit, New Orleans does have a distinct atmosphere. It is a lively city with much to experience. I am not sure that I would want to be there during Mardi Gras, but our family trip was a lot of fun.
Tip: New Orleans can be a very dangerous city! Stay on the beaten path and in groups. If you find yourself in a non-tourist area, turn around.
Next week: Bayou Country!
The Audubon Zoo
The Wild Smithberrys are off on another family travel adventure! This time we headed to Cajun country to visit Mishele’s folks outside of New Orleans. We have not been there in a while, so we decided that we were long over do for a visit. Plus, getting away from the usual cold, grey drizzly weather of Seattle this time of year is always nice.
Our animal lover, Elijah, really wanted to see the famous Audubon Zoo. So, we made it the first stop on our trip to “The Big Easy.” We always visit any zoo nearby no matter where we are. One of these days, I need to write the definitive guide to zoos and aquariums around the world. The Audubon Zoo comes highly regarded, so we were eager to check it out and add it to our list.
The Audubon Zoo is named after the famous ornithologist John James Audubon, who lived in New Orleans for a time. Like its namesake, the zoo is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. It was founded in 1914 and spans 50 acres on the west side of the city. Since it showcases over 2,000 animals, plan on a 3 to 4 hour visit and bring your walking shoes. Admission is $18.95 for adults (over 12) and $13.95 for children (12 and under).
The trolley runs from down town New Orleans to the zoo for easy access. You will want the St. Charles line. Travel New Orleans’ past on the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world! The 150-year-old mahogany seats, brass fittings, and exposed ceiling light bulbs are from a day when plastic seats and aluminum rails were not even a thought. “The route traditionally forms a 13.2-mile crescent from Carondelet at Canal Street in the Central Business District through the oldest and most majestic section of uptown New Orleans, around the river bend to Carrollton at Claiborne Avenue. Swaying along St. Charles Avenue through a tunnel of live oaks, the streetcar passes dozens of antebellum mansions, historic monuments, Loyola and Tulane universities, the sweeping grounds of the Audubon Zoological Gardens, shopping centers, fine restaurants and hotels.” All of this for only $1.25 (paid with exact change when boarding).
Whether you arrive at the zoo by rail or car, you will have a great time. After you enter, there is a beautiful water fountain featuring bronze elephants and hippos to greet you. We took a left at the fountain and headed for the primates. We were amazed by a large male orangutan showing off his impressive acrobatics skills. He effortlessly swung down on ropes from the top of a 25-foot pole. He actually posed at the bottom for his fans with his hand out as if saying “ta-da!” Meanwhile, a huge silverback gorilla lazily stretched out in the sun with his feet up. He looked over at us with an expression that almost looked like, “Big deal, I could do that too if I wanted.”
Elijah raced to the reptile area. He loves snakes! No one else in the family does, but we bravely followed. The Komodo Dragon was cool, but the anaconda creeped me out. When you enter the snake house, look up. Hanging from the ceiling is a replica (thankfully not real) of the largest snake ever found. At 32 feet long and 22 inches in diameter, it is a true monster. All I could think of was that it could eat me if it were alive. I kept looking back at it just to make sure that it did not move.
The Louisiana swamp section was interesting. It housed the only known specimens of white alligators. They are not albino. They are an extremely rare genetic mutation that has only been observed twice, both at the zoo. Not very good camouflage, but when you are 18 feet long with 3 inch teeth, I guess you don’t need to hide.
My favorite section was the Jaguar Jungle. It was made to look like a tropical jungle complete with Aztec ruins. I felt like Indian Jones. The centerpiece of the exhibit is 2 magnificent jaguars. We vividly remember these powerful cats from living in Costa Rica. I think that they are the most beautiful of all the cat species.
Tip: Get to the zoo when it opens. That is when the animals are most active and the crowds the least.
There were many other animals to see. There was even a Jurassic area with animatronic dinosaurs! We spent half the day there and could have stayed longer, but Aaron was getting very anxious to go to the French Quarter to find an authentic jazz experience. So, we finally left and headed downtown in search of good food and music.
Next week, our family travels will take us to the French Quarter area of New Orleans with its rich history!
As VERY proud parents, we have to give a huge shout-out congratulations to Aaron.
He has been officially appointed to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland for the Midshipmen class of 2019! Most outstanding job!
He is hoping to have gold wings on his chest someday as a Naval Aviator. So, someday he might be flying around in a mach 3 jet in the wild blue yonder and beyond. Good luck and best hopes to him.
We are now international teacher recruiters!
After living and teaching in four different countries, we decided the time was right to share our hard earned expertise with you! So, if you are thinking about working in international schools or know someone who might, please contact us. We offer placement, career advice, moving and relocation help, and more. Share the word. Thanks!