A couple of years ago I visited New Orleans on a work-related trip, and I became enamored with the architecture, history, and general vibe of the old French Quarter. I have always wanted to return, and since the city was only a few hours drive from Pensacola we made it our next destination. There were a few campground options around the New Orleans area, but many of them had the word “Bayou” in their name and I figured that was synonymous with “mosquito habitat,” so we opted for an RV travel park just outside the city limits. This was our first time staying at a place like this, but it was relatively affordable, very close to the French Quarter, had hot showers, and was operated by a very nice woman who was happy to let Zephyr roam around.
We ditched the teardrop at the RV park and drove into the French Quarter, where we walked around admiring the buildings, live music, and ample outdoor bars. We each grabbed a drink to go and walked around the streets with our “adult beverages,” a novelty that we are always compelled to enjoy whenever possible. We stopped for dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant called Amelie, and had a delicious meal of chicken breast for Andrew and Creole shrimp for yours truly. As darkness descended over New Orleans, the noise and energy began to elevate, and our silly dog started to have his usual “I hate cities” panic attack. In his defense, the children of the area were out and about in costumes doing their trick-or-treating, and so things were probably a little strange from a dog’s perspective. I imagine that the neighborhood kids have to trick-or-treat a week early every year in order to avoid the chaos and hedonism that must accompany such a holiday in the French Quarter!
Before Zephyr could be too much of a buzz kill we walked him back to the truck and put him to bed while we went back for some more fun. We indulged in some disgustingly sweet (aka amazingly delicious) frozen, brightly colored cocktails as we walked down Bourbon Street ogling the go-go dancers in the windows and the bartenders trying to entice people through their doors. Andrew slurped on something purple containing bourbon (so we were told), while I stuck to the more “traditional” pina colada. We stopped in several shops before finding the perfect Halloween masks, despite not having a clear idea of where we would even be on October 31st. We figured even if we are alone in the woods we can don our disguises and dance by the firelight under the full moon and have a good time!
The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a small locals-only type restaurant where I had some delicious praline bacon with eggs, while Andrew devoured fried green tomatoes, grits, poached eggs, and TWO biscuits. That boy sure does enjoy his Southern food! The restaurant was in a neighborhood that was clearly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac, and it was a sober reminder of how much people in this area have suffered. It’s hard to get a feel for the tragedy of it all when you are a tourist enjoying the relatively unscathed French Quarter. I was grateful for the visual dichotomy, as it provided me with a more complete understanding of New Orleans. It is too easy to be an ignorant visitor and only see the neon lights and entertainment value of any given city. After walking the dog we said our goodbyes to New Orleans, confident that we will return again someday with more time for exploration.
Our next destination was Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, but before we could get there we had to drive up the Mississippi River and into the state of Mississippi itself. We stopped at a fun health-foods store that had the largest selection of bulk candy I have ever seen (really healthy right?). As we checked out I was honestly embarrassed by the amount of candy passing through the scanner! After we grabbed our bags I asked the cashier if I could put the cart away for her, and she offered me a job on the spot! I politely declined, but it is still good to know that politeness and a little initiative can still get you a job in this economy!
We spent our next night in a National Forest that had free campsites complete with free firewood. Finding these spots is always like winning the lottery, and usually comes after a long day of driving and uncertainty about where to sleep. We were grateful for the site, and even more grateful for the nice gentleman who warned us that it is coon hunting season, so if we hear dogs barking all night that’s why! After a quick dinner we enjoyed a campfire and were then lulled to sleep by the sounds of baying dogs off in the distance. It brought back profound memories of my favorite childhood book Where the Red Fern Grows, and I wished desperately I had brought a copy of it with us so I could read it aloud to my lovely husband as he drifted off to sleep beside me.