McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

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24 Hours around Kentucky

This quick weekend trip was just to get in some random sites in Kentucky, including Big Bone Lick State Park (hilarious name ha), Abe Lincoln’s Boyhood home and Mammoth Caves. However, the weather had other plans for us and it was cut short due to a huge wind storm and flooding all over the Midwest.

Friday started out fun with high winds and flash flooding so bad that Norah’s school emailed and asked everyone to come get their kids as soon as possible so that the teachers could get home because multiple roads were flooded around Columbus. We even had to go “the back way” to get her from school because our highway was flooded. But, we grabbed her and headed towards Florence, KY for Friday night just because it’s a decent suburban area close to Big Bone Lick for the morning but would give us some fun things to do Friday night.

When planning what to eat in Florence, nothing was jumping out as a need-to-try… and just the other day Norah said “I’ve never been to Olive Garden, can we PLEASE go sometime??? They have all you can eat breadsticks!” Haha

Hilarious to me that she thinks she’s missing out. Haha So… we blew her mind when we told her that tonight was her lucky night- Olive Garden! Ha

This may be old news to people who eat here more than I do, but they had these touchscreen machines that you can order your drinks, appetizers and desserts on… and then for $2.99 you can play unlimited games. Of course Norah wanted to do that… and I let her.

All was going well. Got my Alfredo dipping sauce for my breadsticks… found out they took the one thing off the menu that I liked (the braised beef tortoloni). Ordered some calimari…

…and then…

The power went out. LOL

Luckily our food was already out, so we just paid cash to the waitress and we were good. Ha half of Florence was out of power all evening, stoplights were pitch black on a black street- so that was fun to navigate in a town I’ve never been in before. Ha

Luckily, Half Price Books had power! So we had an hour until they closed to shop around. Found a few more books to add to the collection and Norah picked up some paperbacks to fulfill her Spring Reading Challenge at school including a Dean Koontz thriller and Ready Player One for Sci Fi.

We booked an Escape room in Florence for 9:30p but they called us around 8 and said their power was out… but they had one room that could be done without power but it was only available at 10:15… so we moved to that one.

It was our first room we didn’t escape! It was called The Shipwreck- and I have to say I want to put an asterisk on not escaping haha the power being out meant their comm system wasn’t working and the game master didn’t give us any clues, even when we asked so we ended up spending the last 10 minutes in the room trying to get the last lock open and she didn’t hear us asking questions and we just thought she was being rude and purposely not answering us. Like we thought the lock wasn’t opening so Kegan said “I’m starting at zero and doing blah blah” and she said “I believe in you- you got this!” So we continued doing the same thing assuming it was right. Turns out it wasn’t lol oh well. 

We went back to our hotel slightly annoyed, but there are lessons to be learned in failure as well, so a good opportunity for Norah who was about ready to cry over it. ha 

Saturday, I had planned to go grab quick breakfast for everyone from a restaurant called First Watch. Its a chain but we’ve never been there-so I got online and made an order for pickup. For 3 people with coffee and juice and meals- was going to be $130! I was like, ok…I’m not super budget conscious… but I just CANNOT pay $130 for breakfast I still have to drive and get. So… we had White Castle breakfast instead! haha It’s not exciting… but- let me tell you- if you aren’t woke to the Castle for breakfast- they have the best cripsy golden hashbrowns of any fast food restaurant and they flat-top fry real eggs on their sliders. Also, you can get sausage or bacon instead of the hamburger patties…and they even have a chicken and waffle sandwich you can add egg and cheese to. Highly recommend for cheap fast food breakfast….and their coffee has even won awards. I still think its terrible watery drip coffee- but others seem to like it. ha 

I had also advanced ordered some cool doughnuts online to eat as snacks Saturday or Sunday for breakfast from a place called Peace, Love and Little Doughnuts. 

These were pretty good! The only bad factor was that it was the same base doughnut for each item, just different toppings on top. So the dense cakiness of it worked well for the strawberry shortcake one… but maybe not so good for the Boston Creme Pie ones.. but I also understand from an operational perspective this is about the only option to offer this kind of doughnut variety in a tiny little shop. 

Our first destination was Big Bone Lick state park. Because of the history of the site, I had really been wanting to fit a visit in. This is literally the site of the birth of American Palentologic study. It gets its name from so many maps dating from the 1700s of European explorers mapping out the French claimed “La Louisiane” territory where “big bones found at the salt lick” or “elephant bones found here” were marked. Map after map shortened and it became the “big bone lick”.

The Shawnee and Delaware tribes of the area knew this site very well and used the springs in this area for collecting salt and for hunting larger game that came to the spring to drink. Lewis and Clarke stopped here to collect and send back mammoth bones to Thomas Jefferson who was very interested in the site. So, Big Bone Lick was in essence the first funded paleontological excavation in North America. You can still see some bones from the excavation at Jefferson’s home in Monticello. Benjamin Franklin actually put forth the first documented discussions of the possibility of climate change after reviewing the “elephant” fossils from Big Bone Lick. Basically thinking that if elephants only live in warm climates.. but we had them here long ago… then maybe it was warmer here long ago and it has progressively gotten colder…

Back in the Pleistocene period/epoch (in the Cenozoic Era) or “ice age” about 12,000 years ago, mammoths, mastadon, ice age bison, giant ground sloths (my favorite) and elk-moose all lived in the area and would come here to the salt deposits around the sulphur spring to drink. The land around was very marshy and the animals would get stuck and die or be killed by early Clovis people… or other larger animals. 

So…pretty cool right??? I want to see the fossil beds! I want to see the spring! Oh… it looks like they have a herd of bison ranging! I wonder what cool skeletons they will have on display??

Yeah… none of that. ha We were soooo disappointed. Fossil beds have all been dug and destroyed, nothing to see at all left- not even marked on a park map at this point… the medicinal salt springs that even had hotels and spas in the area are gone and no longer there. They had cases along the walls of one room with some small bones, as well as some arrowheads and other artifacts of early life. They did have a 1,000 lb skull of a mastodon, so I guess they had 1 big cool fossil. Outside, they set up a fake diorama of painted animals getting stuck in a bog so you could visualize the concept, but it was just cheesy. ha 

I was very excited about giant ground sloths being found here, but disappointed there was no mention of them anywhere except this resin plastic model that was added in 2017 during a model to expand the gift shop into a real visitor center. 

So, after our 15 minutes or so in the building, we decided to hike back to the bison area, even though it was really muddy and puddles of water on the trail and even a downed tree we had to climb over from the storms the night before….because -herd of bison, right???

This was the bison. ha 5 sad bison in a pen with hay. I was done… 

I feel like a jerk sometimes and that my expectations must just be way too high… but like- come on. ha My standing theory is that most things in Indiana/Kentucky are just markers for what USED to be here. “Yeah, we don’t have anything cool now- but back 100 years ago, this place was special!” ha Sorry, I don’t need to visit to see a fake diorama and fake plastic skeletons and walk a flat 1/2 mile trail to where a spring USED to be. 

Anyway… more time for more activities today! So, we headed towards the Louisville area to some other sites I had marked. Since we had more time than I was expecting now, we went over to Fort Knox to see the Bullion Depository and visit the General Patton museum of Leadership. 

We got there… and the gate was closed to the parking lot of the museum, written CLOSED on the gate. No explanation… even though they said open online. 

But we did get to show Norah the Bullion Depository and explain all the crazy security it is thought that they have there, as well as explaining why people say “tighter than Ft Knox” or “more gold than Ft. Knox”. 

Ft Knox has housed over half of the US Treasury’s gold reserve since 1937 when it was decided it was better to house precious reserves away from coastal areas for more protection. Ft Knox even held the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution during World War II. 

But overall, nothing to visit or see since you cant go in the bullion depository and the museum was closed. We stopped in the visitor center (which is really just a visitor checkpoint for civilians entering the actual base of Ft Knox.) and the security guard there even confirmed there was nothing for us. So.. onward. 

We were only 20 minutes or so from Bernheim State Forest, so we thought we’d go see the giant forest trolls. Pull up to the entrance…. CLOSED. 

A forest. Is closed. ha Online I did check afterwards and it did say on their website that they would be closed Saturday and Sunday for storm clean up. I just didn’t think I needed to check that woods would be open. ha 

Ok… well Jim Beam is just a mile away- lets at least go there, see the grounds, go to the gift shop… 

Security guard out front tells us that the gift shop is closed and no tours today because they still don’t have power. Well, OK then. This day might just be a bust!

The area did have some high winds… leaving Jim Beam we saw a silo tipped over on a barn. 

Alright, so one last stop I had marked on the map on our way south to Mammoth Caves for Sunday tours… Hodgenville, Kentucky- the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. 

So we drove to town thinking that we likely wouldn’t be able to do that either.. but much to our surprise the small Lincoln Museum downtown said OPEN! 

The museum contained historically accurate dioramas and wax figures depicting various events from Lincoln’s life.

Out in the square there was a traffic roundabout with multiple statues and granite stones with inscriptions dedicated to the life of Lincoln.

We hit up the local coffee shop before heading out of the town. Sampling sugary doughnuts while you are eating your feelings that everything is closed will make you very sleepy when it wears off. ha

The Main Street there retains such classic charm.. a drug store on the national register of historic places, original granite building fronts with mosaic nameplates of the original purveyors. Super cool.

Vibe Coffee is a gem of a place in Hodgenville. I got a very good matcha latte and Kegan got his standard 50,000 shots of espresso with a drop of cream. ha

After our museum visit we headed towards the National Historic Park that has a monument built to house his “cabin birthplace”. It’s not the original cabin. It’s even listed online as the “symbolic cabin” because the real cabin was dismantled before 1865. But in this case, the “fake” recreation seems fitting to show the humble beginnings of one of the great presidents.

Lincoln family bible

Map of Lincoln family migration over the years.
The memorial has 16 windows, 16 rosettes in the ceiling and 16 fence poles- all signifying his title as the 16th president. There are 56 steps to the monument, representing his age when he died.

About this time, I got an email that my hotel reservation in Horse Cave, KY for tonight had been cancelled. No attempt to help me find another hotel- just cancelled at 4pm. So… I called the hotel and they had power… lady answered the phone and everything. “They just weren’t sure yet if they were gonna have guests tonight”… which seemed like a likely excuse to cancel a points reservation they weren’t making any money off of anyway because we may have been the only guests that hadn’t cancelled because again, I hadn’t thought to check the Mammoth Cave website because….its a cave… and we literally booked a 9am lantern tour. Why in the world would that be closed??

But… it was. Checking the website it said all tours were cancelled for Sunday…so we made the decision to just go back home. No sense driving all around the state to just find closed signs… So, we decided to find some good dinner in Louisville before heading home because our own power at home was still out if our Ring cameras could be believed… so we weren’t in any huge hurry to get there.

We decided on Vietnam Kitchen- a fantastic authentic Vietnamese restaurant that has been a Louisville landmark for years. We love this place, but they are closed on Sundays and it seems every time we are in the area, it’s Sunday.

So, we stopped in and had some amazing food

A10: Beef Salad marinated with lime juice, onions, carrots, peanuts and served with shrimp chips.
K8: Hû Tiêu Xào – Trie Chau Style Noodle Soup
D5: Mi Vit Tiêm – Duck egg noodle soup with duck and Chinese herbs

Overall, not the weekend we planned… but a fun time none the less. Next adventure will be a weekend to Iowa and Illinois over Easter after our Spring Break week in New Orleans readying the house a bit more for the full move in May!

48 hours in Cincinnati,Ohio

This short trip was a two hour drive to Cincinnati to see what kind of fun we could find. We have been to Cincinnati many times before…Kegan’s dad and stepmother even live on the north side so this wasn’t unknown territory. We have been to King’s Island (a very good amusement park) a few times. (Planning to take Norah for the first time in April) and we have been to the Cincinnati Zoo last year when a friend from Florida visited the area. But we hadn’t really spent time downtown and we were able to find plenty to see and do for the weekend.

We grabbed Norah right after school and immediately hit the road headed to the Newport Aquarium.

The aquarium was a really good one- and almost completely empty by 5:30pm when we arrived. Normally this time of year they close at 5, so I guess we got lucky that they were open until 7pm, but it seems no one else seemed to know! Ha

They had a tank with starfish and anemone you would reach in and touch. Both had a very strange texture.
A sting ray tank where you could touch.
My favorite- the penguins! They do penguin meet and greets but only midday so we just sat and watched them for a few minutes. They were getting ready for bed haha most were against the walls waiting on the lights to shut off!
I loved this cutaway because I didn’t know what turtle nests looked like under the sand… it was really eye opening
This beautiful fish kept posing for me at the glass, it was hilarious ha
They had cleaner shrimp in a tank that were extra lively. Norah really loved the “manicure” so much so that she made us backtrack through the whole aquarium at the end to do it again haha
After leaving the aquarium, we got a view of the Cincinnati skyline from across the river at Newport on the Levee

Now, it was time to go a couple miles to pick up what I will refer to as Stupid Purchase #1 (because there were multiple this weekend haha)

One of my hobbies is checking Facebook Marketplace for things I just can’t live without. Especially while traveling. Well on the drive over, I changed my area to Covington, KY just to surf and see what people had for sale over there. One of the first things that popped up was this vertical planter that a lady had listed for $40. Looking at it, it was big and it looked like a self watering hydroponic setup…definitely something I had been searching for and looking for options. But $40 was just silly low…surely not. So I messaged and asked her questions, in chatting learned she was relocating to the US Virgin Islands- I just finished a contract for the hospital in the US Virgin Islands, so we discussed the area and in the end she told me I could pick it up after the aquarium.

We arrived and it’s covered in leaves and some frozen bees and lots and lots of sloshing water. There’s a toilet leaning against it but it is exactly what I thought… so we HAVE to clean it up and get it in the SUV! Haha that itself was comical as it was 7 feet tall so we spent the whole weekend driving around with this planter above our heads! Lol

We drove to Ft Mitchell to a pizza spot but it was jammed packed with an hour wait so-backup plan: when in Cincinnati, eat Skyline Chili!

Skyline was founded in Cincinnati in 1949 by a Greek immigrant, but the story of “Cincinnati chili” goes back 100 years to a couple Macedonian/Northern Greek brothers that took the typical coney dog topping chili, mixed it with a Mediterranean stew spiced with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon but instead of limiting to hotdogs, they added it to spaghetti…and the Germans in the city couldn’t get enough of it. Gold Star, Empress, Dixie Chili, Skyline… you have plenty of options in this city. And admittedly, I do crave Cheese Coneys when I haven’t had them in a while.

Norah is a fan of the cheese ha

After skyline, we headed to The WEB- an arcade/mini golf/indoor go kart/Laser tag/VR combo spot. We only had a couple hours until they closed so it cost us a whole $10/person (plus arcade game tokens) for an unlimited band. Ha

Norah was pumped to drive her own go kart
They had a 9 3/4 black light Harry Potter themed mini-golf

We shut the place down trying to use our credits before 11pm and they shut the machines off at 10:50! Jerks 🙂 norah used her credits to pick out some little junk prizes and we headed to our hotel. Again, hotel was nothing special- a Holiday Inn downtown using points I had.

Saturday morning we got moving for a walk downtown to Wild Eggs again since Cincinnati had one, too. We’ll leave Wild Eggs to Louisville- the Cincy one wasn’t nearly as good, but it was still a good breakfast

Norah got a hot chocolate
I got a Nutty Irishman boozy coffee with a little “extra special” according to the waitress.
Strawberry pancakes
I got the Steak Benny- a New York strip on eggs Benedict
Kegan got the same Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict. He said the corn cakes were too good to pass up

After breakfast we explored some more blocks downtown and headed towards the waterfront

We walked past the international headquarters of Proctor and Gamble- a company started in and still based in Cincinnati.
Passed the Great American Ballpark- home of the Cincinnati Reds baseball – caught this photo looking into “the gap” – I didn’t get any photos but there are also 2 tall smokestacks that emit fire when the pitcher strikes out a runner and fireworks after a home run or win.
Pete Rose statue in front of the Spirit of Baseball Indiana limestone relief. For anyone that follows baseball at all, Pete Rose needs no introduction- nicknamed “Charlie Hustle”, he’s the all time leading MLB hitter, at-bats, games played, singles, and outs and played for the Reds from 1963-1978. Although he’s actually most famous for the fact that he isn’t in the baseball hall of fame due to his betting on games while he was a player and manager.
The John A Roebling Suspension bridge, was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built- until Roebling finished his next bridge project: The Brooklyn Bridge. Roebling died before the Brooklyn bridge was ever built, after crushing his toes between a dock and a ferry led to amputation and then tetanus. His son took over that project but in the end, it is believed his wife actually managed the project to completion.

Down at the waterfront, there is a great monument to the Black Brigade of Cincinnati- the first black military unit in the civil war. When the Confederacy was closing in on Cincinnati, a group of black men offered to volunteer to help fortify the city against attack. They were ignored…but then the mayor decided they should go round up all the black men and forcibly make them work. When the top general learned this, he ordered all of the black men (around 400) be allowed to return home…but that if they chose to volunteer, to come back to report the next day. Over 750 black men showed up to volunteer. Eventually they were paid and even led by black officers. The cleared hundreds of acres of forest, rifle pits, forts and are credited with completing the fortifications that saved the city in an 1862 attack.

The black brigade presented an engraved sword to one of the top officers
Norah, being Norah at the Marion Spencer statue. She was a civil rights activist who led desegregation efforts in Cincinnati schools, and she was a cofounder of the national Underground Railroad center
We found a great photo op at the Sing the Queen City sign. Cincinnati has had the nickname of The Queen City since the 1800s when residents referred to it as the Queen of the West, as it was last civilized stop on the way west.

Lots of great deco architecture everywhere downtown

About this time I remembered that I booked our next item for an exact time. Whoops. We had 20 minutes to drive out to the Cincinnati Museum Complex, park and get inside to the OMNIMAX theater. We made it, 1 minute late, but before they started the show!

Union Terminal is an AMAZING art deco train station that opened in 1933 and was planned to hold 17,000 passengers a day and over 200 trains daily. It is the largest half-dome in the western hemisphere and just an awesome building.

106 ft tall rotunda
A 218 million dollar renovation in 2018 brought back so much original luster. Walking through made you feel like you were headed to a train in 1940.
The rotunda has giant mosaic murals of industrial subjects by German immigrant artist Winold Reiss

Our OMNIMAX film was called Dinosaurs of Antarctica and it was super interesting to learn about how Antarctica was once a lush jungle setting housing tons of early dinosaur species prior to the T Rex Jurassic age.

The first museum we visited was Natural History Museum
The biggest trilobite we have ever seen! Found in Ohio!
I loved this fossil. The detail you could see in this full crinoid was just amazing.
In the back of the lab we could see a triceratops skull they are just starting to remove from its field jacket
They have a whole wing of the museum dedicated to space and exploration
An interactive computer console where you could remotely control a Mars rover
An interactive exhibit trying to explain the curvature of space time.

Next we visited the City History Museum- which was a bit disappointing. There were a few stations talking about the history of the city but mostly it was just a wing dedicated to housing this giant train set that was a replica of the city from the 1920s

Next up was the Holocaust Museum which just opened in 2019. It was a really good museum but I didn’t take any pictures, I guess. Although not really the subject matter to photograph. I highly recommend it.

They had an “ask a survivor” interactive exhibit. You could literally ask any question and the recorded person would answer. Norah said it felt very awkward to be asking personal questions like “what happened to your family?” Because it felt like a real person.

Next we visited the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor. A shop completely covered in Rookwood pottery serving Graeter’s ice cream- a Cincinnati original since 1870, even declared by Oprah as the best ice cream she had ever tasted.

After chilling with some ice cream, we were offered a tour of the building by a guy who saw us just standing around staring at all of the details- he said it went to some areas not open to the public and lasted about an hour… but we only had two hours until closing and Norah hadn’t been to the Children’s museum yet… so she voted to skip the tour and we reluctantly agreed because we knew she really wanted to go play. Parenting requires sacrifices ha

Overall it was a small museum, mostly a big playground with some other interactive stations and crafts.

Norah enjoyed the big play restaurant kitchen and serving me breakfast.
In the craft area, we were too late to build a big cardboard house but the lady told Norah she could help them disassemble it for recycling and she was thrilled to take tape off the rods haha
They announced overhead that they would be starting a dance party on the stage… so naturally, Norah wanted in on that. She spent a good 30 minutes in her kid rave ha It’s fun to see her still enjoy little kid stuff because she’s right on that line where everything is too young. She even said “oh, this is like a little kid museum” haha yep, you’re just aging out of it ha

After all of those museums we needed a bit of a break. We headed back to the hotel for an hour and had a rest- I took a nap, Kegan listened to an audiobook and Norah surfed YouTube.

We took an Uber downtown since it was pretty cold to our reservations at Taste of Belgium- another Cincinnati local chain specializing in “taking American staples and Belgianizing them” . It’s Norah’s favorite because they have waffles ha

Pretzels with beer cheese
Steamed mussels
Loaded fries
Chicken and Waffles
Ham and cheese galette in a buckwheat crepe. None of us liked this at all.
Norah got a breakfast chicken biscuit with gravy and eggs
Norah and I shared a banana Nutella crepe for dessert
The Cortado coffee that led to Stupid Purchase #2. Ha

Kegan said, “you should try this coffee, it’s really good” so I did. And wow… it was like the best coffee I had ever had haha so I asked our waitress what brand of coffee they brew… she didn’t know. So on our way out I stopped at the bar area and asked the people there what they brewed. They pointed to a House Blend black bag with a Taste of Belgium label and told me that they did sell it. But when I asked if that’s what they use in the espresso machine- no that’s this Espresso Roast… also in a big 5 lb bag with a Taste of Belgium label. I asked if they sold that and they said they’d have to go ask the manager. Manager came out and was like …I mean, I can sell you that bag… but it will be expensive and it’s like 5 lbs… yeah. That’s fine, I’ll take it haha

So…. That’s how I ended up carrying a 5lb bag of coffee beans around for the evening 🤣

Our last item for Saturday night was at The Escape Game right next door. This was the last room we had never done that they had… Gold Rush. It was a fun one! Fairly easy on the difficulty level I think because we escaped in about 35 minutes

Sunday we checked out of our hotel and headed right back down to the waterfront to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center- a fantastic museum and cultural center dedicated to telling the story of slavery and the long road to freedom many slaves endured.

They have an actual “slave pen” recovered from a farm in Kentucky where slaves were held in shackles to keep them from running away.
Many exhibits and videos that are well worth a visit and watch. It was a very well done museum.

After we finished there, we headed to the northern suburbs to Blue Ash for our favorite midwestern Dim Sum at Grand Oriental Buffett where we met Kegan’s dad and stepmom for lunch.

It wasn’t their best showing of dim sum options but definitely a solid lunch and something I had been craving for quite a while.

After lunch, we headed over to the American Sign Museum- a quirky little museum dedicated to preserving nostalgic old signage from years passed.

Overall, it’s small but totally worth a stop! Tons of really cool vintage signs, with a history of each type of sign that had popularity over the years

We found ourselves with 2 hours until the Cincinnati Museum of Art closed, so we decided to trek on back downtown and see what we could squeeze in. We definitely did a speed tour and would love to spend more time there in the future.

They had a special exhibit of Georgia O’Keeffe photographs, but none of her famous works that I recognized. Overall we were underwhelmed with the special exhibit but maybe we just didn’t “get it”. That’s always a real possibility.
This was my favorite piece in the museum for a few reasons. This was painted in the 1940s- the height of American patriotism (and rightfully as we needed that to endure World War II and America was sacrificing at home to support the effort abroad) but this artist painted these “smug” daughters of the revolution members standing in front of Washington Crossing the Delaware (a painting painted in Germany by a German) , drinking tea in Chinese teacups, dressed in British fashion, claiming that America is the best. The irony and snark shows through vividly and this being from the 1940s just really seemed beyond it’s time. I thought about this painting and smiled a few times after leaving so I have declared it my favorite because it’s the one that stuck with me.

We were surprised by the volume of works by famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Diego Rivera, and even a couple Paul Cézanne paintings- which was cool because I did a research paper on early Cubism in college and I know that he didn’t paint a lot of paintings… he was sort of the bridge between Impressionism and Cubist modern art.

A Picasso I hadn’t seen before- not quite the abstract style we usually think of from Picasso.
I loved this one! Very Ireland. I would have hung this one in my living room. I promise, I’ll take good care of it!

After art museum adventures, it was time for stupid purchases #3 with a trip to Jungle Jim’s for some groceries and fun international items before heading home. Jungle Jim’s is like a theme park for food. Usually, if you are looking for anything, you can find it there.

And even things you weren’t looking for- like an $80 blue ostrich egg from New Mexico lol

We usually look for a French cider that is very similar to one we loved in Normandy, fancy cheeses I’ve never had, some Irish staples like rashers and puddings and Swedish caviar spread for toast, along with more exotic produce like jackfruit, longan berries, trumpet mushrooms, and bok choy. This trip we had to keep it under control on fresh items because we only had three days until we are headed to Disney World! It’s a busy Spring ha.

Overall, a great weekend trip that we all enjoyed! Next trip will likely be Falls of the Ohio, Mammoth Cave and Big Bone Lick (because I have heard they have giant ground sloth fossils! Ha)

48 Hours in Louisville,Kentucky

Hello! It has been a minute since I could write a post about travels! A bit over a year…. too long… but we have been traveling- just to the same destination all year- New Orleans! After last Christmas’s trip… we decided to entertain the idea of moving down there… and after a few months, we bought a house! So, since May 2022, we have been spending every week Norah isn’t in school down in Louisiana working on that house with the goal of a full move in May 2023 after Norah finishes 5th grade in Indiana. 

So, this upcoming move prompted me to think about what all we could see while we were still close in Indiana that we hadn’t made a priority in the last few years. So I started putting together some short weekend trips we could work in before May… we shall see if I can get them all blogged!

First up, a quick trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the weekend. We picked up Norah after school and headed straight across the bridge- an hour and twenty minutes from us to see what touristy things we could find.

Our hotel was nothing exciting- a Holiday Inn Express- but I’m still finishing up my points from traveling for work pre-Covid… so free won out here for hotel choice. 

We headed out from the hotel to our first destination of the evening- The Old Spaghetti Factory. 

Nothing fancy, definitely a chain, but we could be dressed casually and they have a brown butter mizithra cheese spaghetti and spumoni ice cream (chocolate, cherry and pistachio) that is REALLY good.

Norah got a Cotton Candy drink and a grilled cheese (because she doesn’t like pasta…who’s child is this??)…so life was good. 

After a dinner that took entirely too long (like… 1.5 hours and that was only because we told our waitress to just bring ice cream and check and get it moving as they brought our dinner because we had to go)… we walked south through downtown through 4th street live, a pedestrian area full of bars and restaurants-mostly 21 and up… 

We walked past The Seelbach Hotel, a famous historic hotel built by two German immigrants in 1905. It was so fancy, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for the wedding in the The Great Gatby (I believe he called it the Maybach hotel…) Many presidents have stayed here over the years including FDR and JKF and most recently, George W Bush in 2002. Many celebrities have slept a night here, too… one of the more interesting characters to frequent the Seelbach was Al Capone… he used to play poker here on his bootleg runs from Chicago to moonshine country in Kentucky. Rumor has it there was a button in the floor that the staff could step on when police arrived looking for him and it would shut the poker room doors, alerting Capone to escape through hidden passages. There is an underground room in the Seelbach that I REALLY wanted to go see, but the doors were locked by the time we could go in… guess I should I stayed as a guest here instead of using my free points at the Holiday Inn Express! ha 

The Rathskeller room in the basement is constructed of Rookwood Pottery- designs were hand drawn on clay, then fired, then glazed and fired again… A portion of the ceiling is made of leather with intricate designs like zodiac signs in it…. there is a giant art deco clock on one wall… so- even though I didn’t get to see it this trip, I still had to talk about it here and include a photo from the internet- because maybe someone who reads this will get to go see it!

Lots of other fun sights along the way… 

We were headed to The Louisville Palace Theater to see a showing of the 1986 film Labyrinth starring David Bowie as the Goblin King. Norah dressed appropriately. 

The Louisville Palace is a really uniquely decorated theater that has been open since 1928. Very European or old Spanish style… ornate carvings and cobalt blue… very over the top and super fun. 

The vaulted ceiling has carved faces in each of the circles. 
The theater itself has 2 levels. We were under the balcony because the seating was open- I hate sitting side by side with strangers in a theater…and I figured the quality of the video from 1986 probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference 🙂 

None of us had ever seen the movie surprisingly…. and we loved it! Norah especially. I loved that the whole theater erupted in cheers with David Bowie appeared on screen for the first time. I loved all of the puppets (it was done by Jim Henson) and some of the same voices and maybe even the same puppets were used in Fraggle Rock- one of my all time favorite shows. It was an especially good movie for the time…. very quippy and fun.

Cute spot to photograph this growing child outside the theater after the film. 

After the movie, we booked an escape room next door at Locked In: Louisville. It was called The Warehouse and the goal was to find the alien artifact our coworker hid and escape before the government finds out we know their secrets!

We escaped…. but barely… and only by having to call the gamemaster 3 different times. It was probably my least favorite escape room experience we’ve done… there was one poor guy having to juggle all of the rooms so he wasn’t watching our play… and when our lock didn’t work- we spent 15-20 minutes of our room time trying to figure out what we did wrong…until finally we decided to call for help and ruin our chance to be on the leaderboard -only to find out we had the code right the whole time… that happened twice…just overall not impressed with how they run it, but the puzzle was decent. Wouldn’t book anything else there though sadly. 

Norah and Kegan were still hungry after the movie and escape room, so Kegan ran inside Pizza Bar at 4th street Live and got the last 3 slices of pizza available. ha Late night walking snacks make a mile walk seem better. 

It was back to the hotel to sleep for the night. 

Saturday morning we woke up early and took an Uber across downtown to Wild Eggs, a fantastic breakfast/brunch local chain. We went to the original a couple times when we lived in Louisville in another lifetime (2009-2011) and their Everything Muffins are just heavenly. We think about them from time to time to this day. I tried to recreated them once and got close… but just not perfect. So, what better place to have breakfast. Kegan had the Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict with corn cakes topped with chorizo and poached eggs, Norah got pancakes and bacon, and I had the Country Fried Steak and Eggs 

Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict
Country Fried Steak and Eggs
Pancakes and Bacon
The amazing Everything Muffin

We had interesting breakfast drama… while we were waiting on our food a fight erupted in the kitchen and I could hear a lady yelling and carrying on. I thought she was maybe the head chef back there or something, yelling at someone that worked for her… the wait staff started mumbling asking if she was “for-real going off” or joking… they decided it was for real… and then she burst out of the kitchen double doors out into the actual restaurant yelling and cussing “I dont know who the F you think you’re talking to…your damn kids or something… ” and then continued a solid 30 seconds of more profane ranting before the actual head kitchen guy was like “YOU HAVE GOT TO GO” and tried to drag her back through the kitchen to exit the back… but she was not having that. She’s swatting and yelling and cursing and she leaves out the front. ha I have never seen anything like that. Other people’s drama? Big fan. haha Norah was a little stunned… and looking at me like “is this real life??” haha but she handled it well. The kitchen manager guy even came to our table later with extra everything muffins that were “on the house” for having to witness that. We just laughed it off with him… told him he handled it the best he could. People. be. crazy. I don’t know what someone could have said at 8:30 in the morning to cause all that… haha 

With full bellies and our drama meters fulfilled, we headed off along the waterfront walking the mile back towards the hotel 

Norah outside the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. We didn’t take a tour, but we did peak in through the windows to the factory and could see a lot of the process.

We started our day at the Frazier History Museum. 

It was a really cool few hours- learned a LOT about Kentucky history and items/people who originated in Kentucky. I didn’t want to include a LOT of things here because I don’t want to ruin someone else’s trip and discovery… but a few highlights to maybe pique your interest to visit yourself:

The gift shop had Ale 8 cold in an old vending machine so Norah got a history lesson and a soda!
Kegan brought home a TShirt. ha He does love his Ale 8.

Next stop was the Kentucky Science and Discovery Center

Norah guessed 4/5 furs correctly, missed the 5th one by guessing Beaver instead of Muskrat… pretty darn good!
An actual Egyptian mummy.. seemed out of place as one of the only artifacts in the place.. where- but ok… I love Egyptian stuff!

We spent a good 3 hours in the science center. Saw an IMAX 3D movie on Pandas and how they are breeding them in China using some bear techniques we’ve used in the USA…. it was slow but good. I learned a lot about pandas. 

Now it was time to get in the car and leave downtown for the evening. We headed out East to Hurstborne Parkway and started at our old stomping grounds- Half Price Books. Maybe my favorite store on the planet. This used bookstore is just full of amazing finds… almost all under $10. I literally had to get a cart. and this was me keeping it under control. ha

After buying 75 lbs of books, it was time to get our exercise on at a place called ACTIVATE. 

You pay for a 75 minute pass into the gaming area and it basically has about 10 rooms with various mini-games inside. You scan a band, pick a game and a 1-10 difficulty level and wait for the door to unlock when the group in front of your finishes. Then you have about 10 seconds to get inside and the game starts!

Picking our game and difficulty, waiting for the green light to enter the room
This game had you finding the one light on all of the walls that matched a light shown. Run and hit it to get the next one… points for each one you find before time runs out. 
This room was similar, find the circle not rotating like all of the others and hit it, trying to identify as many as you can
This was the most fun- The Grid. The floor tiles changed colors and you had to run to get on squares of a certain color in under 4 seconds. 

Overall, Activate was super busy, so there was a bit of queuing up in between rooms- but that was OK- we still had a blast and would totally go back. I could see this being such a good teen activity…but what do I know. I’m too old to be cool anymore. 

We ended the evening at The Melting Pot- another chain… but I had never been. It was always a restaurant I longed to go to back when I was young and poor… and we never did. Now, I knew I’d be disappointed, but I still thought Norah would love it and I could check it off the “want to do” list. Overall… if I did it again, I would just do a cheese course and a dessert course, I think instead of the 4 course dinner. The meat was pretty plain, small portions, nothing special.. but the Alpine cheese and the Smores Chocolate fondue were pretty darn good!

It was back downtown to our hotel around 11:30pm for a decent night’s sleep. 

We woke up to start our Sunday and stepped outside to…SNOW! 

We were glad we got all of our walking out of the way Saturday! I finally found a coat last year that is SO WARM and so NICE …I was literally getting hot and sweating walking in freezing weather and wind. I had to have Kegan photograph the amazing coat! I finally understand after owning this coat why they say “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” ha 

Turns out I need to wash the sleeves! I didn’t realize until this picture how dirty they are! hahaha

We went a couple blocks to the 21C Museum hotel for a breakfast brunch at Proof on Main. 

The food was good…don’t get me wrong… but I maybe expected more? The menu was limited – because its a slow time… (i think there were maybe 2 other tables) and my fried chicken sandwich was so burnt I didnt eat it… BUT, a couple items were great. 

Grilled octopus. This was great
A pimento cheese skillet with a sweet and spicy pepper jelly- delicious

After breakfast, we walked through the 21C art Museum. 

It was a fun 30 minutes with some interesting more modern art from a lot of local artists. I don’t know that I would make it a destination- but worth a stop in the area for sure. 

We hopped in our car and starting a driving tour of Old Louisville south of downtown. 

The Witches Tree- supposedly leaving trinkets in the tree will bring good luck- the higher you throw it, the better your luck will be… 
The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum – which you can actually tour inside and see the woodwork and parquet floors and stained glass windows. 
Just blocks and blocks of amazing old houses just waiting for some McKinney Magic. haha I made Kegan snap a photo of at least a couple for me. 

After driving around on all the side streets and picking out all of the not-for-sale houses I wanted to buy or restore… we needed to kill some time before the art museum opened at noon, so we headed to Bardstown Road to a couple of vinyl record shops. First stop-Electric Ladyland, basically a smoke shop with a couple bins of records… didn’t find much there, but I did educate Norah on what a “bong” is. haha 

Our next stop was much more our style- The Great Escape- walls and walls of comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, vinyl, collectables… I could have bought the store. ha 

Norah picked out a vintage used Ouija board, I found two working, in the box, original Star Trek toys and some vinyl I’d never seen anywhere else. Kegan hit the motherload of Jerry Jeff Walker vinyl so he was thrilled. 

Now, it was noon-and the Speed Art Museum was open, so we made our way there. It was a madhouse. Turns out this was the last four hour window to see the special exhibit of art nouveau items that had been hugely popular. We got the last spot in the garage on the roof and it wasn’t even a spot haha but I parked there anyway. 

Again, not wanting to highlight too many things to spoil a trip- but to pique interest… a few items from various wings of the museum:

A fabulous round cookie tin
Self portrait of Mucha
A fabulous teapot. I love it. 
My very own fair lady 🙂 

A fun museum… I think I’d wait for a special exhibit to be in town you’d like to see. Then its worth a visit, for sure. I was impressed with the volume of old European art and paintings they had there… it was a nice museum. 

We ending our evening by meeting up with some friends at The Dragon King’s Daughter- a restaurant on Bardstown road very near the vinyl shops we shopped earlier in the day. 

It was great to catch up with Gretchen and Charles and hear about how amazing their daughters are doing as they finish college and high school this year. Gretchen is a fantastic artist and sells jewelry and other art at a shop in Louisville- has her own feature show coming up- excited to see that! Charles is a geologist Kegan used to work with (how we met them) and he’s coaching two sports- being dad, running like crazy- both just being the best parents they could be. Great people that I loved catching up with. 

Overall, the food was great! Would recommend and would go back.

Luckily, Louisville is just a bit over an hour from us, so we headed home around 6:30 and were home and unpacked by 8 or so… it was a jam packed weekend, but it was great to actually be a tourist close to home and give a local city the same planning and treatment that I would give a destination city. 

Next up- Cincinnati in a couple weeks. Stay tuned!

Day 9 and 10-Zoo, New Year’s Eve and Wrap Up

Today was an easy day planned because a lot of places were closing early or were closed completely… I wasn’t able to make reservations anywhere I tried over a month ago… so we just decided to play it by ear…and maybe not even do much today but hang out in the hotel room.

We got tickets to the Audubon Zoo out past the Garden District in Audobon Park- famous for its 300 year old Live Oak trees.

They had a lot of REALLY cool animals. I think we are a bit spoiled with the Indy Zoo and Cincy Zoos… and even the Louisville Zoo…. this one was good- and you could tell it has major history and has been here a long time… but some of it felt a little run down. I just hope the animals are healthy and as happy as they can be in a zoo.

Some of the cool animals we saw:

The Roman Chewing Candy cart was open inside the Zoo. Its been an institution for over 100 years at the New Orleans Zoo. The guy running it said that today was the LAST day ever for $1.00 a stick candy. I said, wow- that paint on the cart has been there a long time, when was the last time you raised prices? He said 1986. ha Went from .50/stick to $1.00/stick. January 1, it goes to $1.50 a stick. Pretty cool if Norah ever goes back when she’s old- she can tell her grandkids that she still remembered getting this candy for $1!! ha
and she has the photographic evidence to prove it!

I had made lunch reservations at a place called Superior Seafood on St Charles on the recommendation of a coworker. It wasn’t totally bad… but it wasn’t great either. I know better than to blindly listen to people about my food. ha

We had 1:30 reservations- they immediately sat us outside on the patio instead of asking which we’d prefer… strike one- I hate eating outside lol Maybe its a bit Karen of me…but you ask your reservations what their preference is…you seat your walk-ins where you have space left. Anyway, whatever, not that big of a deal… but now its 1:50 and we still haven’t placed drink orders. Then its 2:10 and we still haven’t placed food orders. Now its 3:15 and we still haven’t got our food yet. lol was the meal that never ends. In the end, an almost 2.5 hour lunch… and Kegan’s meal came so far ahead of mine that he was done almost before mine arrived. And I want to add that his main course- at a seafood restaurant, the Shrimp and Grits, had 5 shrimp on it. ha Ok- thats all 🙂

We got one dozen Charbroiled oysters and I got a dozen raw oysters. When in Rome.
Crawfish Cornbread. Kegan and Norah devoured this. It was very tasty.
Kegan’s shrimp and grits

I messaged my friend Tim to see if he was still around and he was… so we Uber’d straight to his hotel and met him outside. We ended up walking around downtown and looking for a Starbucks to hang out in for a while- the one we found-limited hours- closing at 2pm all week due to short staffing or covid. So..on we walked- found a gelato and espresso shop and popped in there. I got a good strong coffee to hopefully keep me up past midnight.

It was so good to catch up with Tim… but I totally forgot to get a picture of us all! Oh well.

We talked to him until it was time for us to head to our very last Escape Room- Inventor’s Attic at Escape My Room.

It was-hands down-the hardest room we’ve done. I did not have a good time. ha I have no idea how we managed to actually pull it off in the end with 2 minutes to spare. I’m not certain we actually did. ha They may have just been being nice… but they said we made it. They have a super cool machine that vibrates at certain frequencies and displays patterns- but the sand that vibrates into the patterns- there wasn’t enough on the plate to make out the patterns…and adding more sand didn’t actually work- so we probably messed with that for 15 minutes… even asking if anything was wrong with the machine and letting our guide know we couldn’t see the patterns and in the end she did help us ensure we were on the right track… but after the game she says “yeah… we’ve been having tons of trouble with that all week”. and we spend another 5-10 on another piece that “the timing is a little hard sometimes” lol In the end- the room was super hard, very cerebral, the theme was fantastic…. I hate to complain. All the other rooms there were the best anywhere… and the staff are phenomenal. I think I just had a bad and angry day lol I don’t like feeling stupid from equipment malfunction ha Kegan and I both were not on our A game tonight… he missed some basic math stuff, we missed instructions right in front of us… we missed an item literally on a ledge in front of our faces. lol Truth be told, the machine probably wasn’t our only barrier!

We got back to the room, feeling like we failed even though we escaped. ha They said there is only like a 20% success rate on that room. So we just hung out for a while and ordered some pizza and wings from DoorDash so we didn’t have to go out into the craziness that was really picking up downtown.

We stayed in the room, Norah did a Google Meet with an old classmate from her online classes and decided she didn’t want to go down to the ball drop… we were thinking cool! ha

Then about 11pm, she changed her mind. ha So…off we go into the craziness.

It really wasn’t as bad as I expected. Police had traffic blocked off for blocks around Jackson Square…and most people were up on the Moonwalk on the riverfront waiting on the fireworks. We stood on the railroad tracks in between so we could see the Fleur De Lis drop from the Jax brewery roof – the New Orleans equivalent of the Times Square ball drop. The fireworks over the river were very nice and we rang in the New Year with 25,000 of our closest friends.

Norah had this grand idea that she was going to ask all the drunk people around us to yell HAPPY POTATO at midnight. haha I told her if anyone could get it done, it would be her. But I didn’t let her actually ask anyone. lol

So, HAPPY POTATO from the New Orleans McKinney clan. LOL

The sea of people leaving the Jackson Square area was CRAZY. lol Literally filled every street as far as you could see.
But these people had it figured out! They had a guy peddling them around on a lounger! haha

Finally, got Norah wound down and asleep about 1:45am… and told her she was not going to be happy at 8am when I woke her up… but I told her all she had to do was get her butt to the car and she could go back to sleep.

Fast forward to Day 10 and packing up to head out- she cried over brushing her teeth this morning. ha so, its safe to say that she didn’t get enough sleep! ha

Our only plan today was to drive around some neighborhoods in New Orleans in case we decide to get serious about a move somewhere, we’d at least have seen some suburb areas in person… and to make some stops at an area grocery store chain that sells my La Croix Cola flavored sparkling water. ha I cant find it around Indiana anymore- every once in a while at a Big Lots, but that’s it… so when we went to Florida, I looked up where I could buy and we stopped at 3-4 grocery stores there on our way home, too.

So we combined neighborhood viewing with Rouse’s Market LaCroix hunting! Stopped at 7 different locations all around the area. Found about 15 8-packs! That should do me for a bit 🙂

It was interesting to look around and how different the items in the store there where compared to everywhere else. It really is like a whole different country down here.

This was just one section of the freezer case:

If we did move here, I can tell you Kegan would be shopping at Rouses Market! ha He was like “jaw-dropped-open” when he saw this case of dry aged beef lol
They even had Wagyu, tomahawks and other uncommon cuts
I have never had pickled pork, but now I’m intrigued!
Norah saw this cereal and asked if she could have some. Sure…why not? haha Not sure what “spoke” to her about this… but sure thing, kid. It’s yours. Come to find out, this is a new cereal from the rapper Master P- who is from New Orleans- and is quite the entrepreneur…but he decided to sell cereal, because he said that everyone eats cereal…and nobody was making cereal that was the equivalent of the Wheaties box for inner city kids…so, he put his own face on the “Wheaties” box…. and marketed it, with a portion of the profits going back to inner city communities and elderly. He said “no cereal company out there was giving back to people who need it, so I created one that did”. So, after reading that…I’m like, RIGHT ON. ha Turns out, they are only selling Master P cereal in New Orleans at Rouses Market. So, right place, right time. ha

I had planned to go to a new Vietnames restaurant called Kim Ahn’s Noodle House, but when we arrived it was closed. So we decided we’d wait until we got to Hattiesburg and hit that Landshark food truck with the cajun crab boils boxes… but they, too, were closed today according to their Facebook… So… we went with something we knew we loved- we went back to the Dong Phuong Restaurant and Bakery that we hit on our way into the city on Day 1. Such a good decision.

Kegan said he wasn’t in the mood for soup- so he got the short ribs and rice plate. It was outstanding. It was like meat candy. Glazed and charred… i could eat that every day.
I got an iced Vietnamese coffee to hopefully make the 12 hour drive after less than 6 hours of sleep. ha I forgot to photograph the rest, but I got the special Pho with meatball, beef, etc… it was very good.

The highlight though was after our meal, I went next door to the bakery since we had a cooler and ice (Kegan had picked up Andouille sausage at Rouses Market and had it on ice already) and I just asked to get some assorted meat pies and steam buns. The lady was super nice and helped me get an assortment of pies and I saw signs up for their King Cakes. You can only get king cakes in Jan/Feb leading up to Mardi Gras… and the ones from here are super famous for being one of the best.

I asked her “I assume you have to order the king cakes ahead of time?” fully figuring you did… she said Yes, that the shipping had already sold out for the year on Day 1… but if I hurry, she thought there was a few spots left for pickup that would likely sell out soon, too. I told her, that’s OK…we were headed back to Indiana today- maybe next year.

Then…she surprised me. She said “you’re so sweet…” (which- HA. just like Kegan is a pleasure in the mornings) She said “we have a few “rejects” in the back that she didn’t think were good enough to sell…. if you’d want one of those, I can ring you up and meet you outside and give it to you. I can’t give it to you in here because I can’t have any of the other people see it”

So…. that is the story of how I got a back alley reject cream cheese King Cake from Dong Phuong Bakery!!

This thing weighed like 5 lbs. Its sort of a flaky, laminated brioche cinnamon dough with a silky light cream cheese frosting. It was AMAZING! I have no idea what a king cake is supposed to taste like, but I can tell you I see why theirs is famous. That’s for sure.
Assorted meat pies. I cant tell you what they are…but I do know 1 is a crawfish pie
Assorted steam buns- I know the 2 in front are pork, egg and onion….no clue on the others. It will a surprise for breakfast or lunch tomorrow 🙂

We drove straight home with only 2 stops for fuel. Left New Orleans around noon- rolled in about 1am Eastern time- so a 12 hour drive. We crossed Louisville around midnight with the bridge all lit up, thought that looked cool

Have to give credit to Kegan’s mom and step-dad for keeping our dog so we could go on this trip… and to my dad and step-mom for watching our house, the chickens, the cats, the plants, the mail… EVERYTHING else!


Overall takeaway- we loved the city. Had a really great time. Met some cool people, ate some amazing food, experienced a very deep rooted culture and learned way more about New Orleans that I knew before. The weather was fantastic. We only had rain one evening… and it was 80 every day all day. 70 all night. I could definitely get used to that weather, I miss the heat since leaving south Florida.

No future vacations booked right now. Norah has 2 weeks off in March- I may book something last minute, but our plan was to go to Spain… but now with Omicron spreading like wildfire, I’m not sure we want to deal with overseas travel at the moment. Europe takes Covid way more seriously than the US does. Who knows what would be closed, what kind of testing and quarantine rules will be in place… likely better to wait a few more months before heading across the pond on a deadline to return.

This summer we’ll likely do another road trip in June/July… likely this time to New England since Kegan hasn’t ever been up that way. Gotta see if any of those states or cities have relocation potential 🙂

When I have a plan or tickets booked, You’ll get updates here! Until then, thanks for following along with our gypsy caravan!

Day 8-Chalmette Battlefield and Art

We slept in today, got some coffee downstairs and then caught an Uber out a few miles east of New Orleans proper to see the Chalmette Battlefield- the site of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Initially, my plan was to Uber out there, then walk back to New Orleans through the lower ninth ward to see that area- as it was the hardest hit and absolutely devastated by the levee breaches during Katrina. There have been tons of focus on rebuilding houses in these neighborhoods and getting people from the ninth ward back in their homes instead of developers and landlords taking over. Brad Pitt even had a charity called the Make It Right Foundation that brought in famous architects to build avante garde modern homes, then offered them at greatly reduced costs to former residents. But…no good deed goes unpunished. The lumber, which was supposed to last for decades started rotting within 2 years. Ventilation issues and mold became an issue, the foundation was sued for selling faulty construction homes, the foundation sued the program manager and the architects for not using sound products and following code. It became a mess from what should have been the success story of the century. They’ve already had to bulldoze 2 of the homes that were built and there are other ongoing lawsuits.

We didn’t drive right by those particular houses… but we did get a pretty good tour of the lower ninth from the Uber. He recommended we didn’t walk. He didn’t say it wasn’t safe… he said “he didn’t know what we would see if we did- just empty lots and houses” and then told me it was too hot to walk that far anyway… we got the impression he was saying it might not be a great idea. So… I can listen sometimes 🙂 Also, it was like 4-5 miles… further than I initially thought from the map. ha We didn’t miss much, just a couple houses, like Fats Domino’s old house… and a small house turned into a “living” museum dedicated to the people and the history of the lower ninth, that I wasn’t even sure if it was open anyway.

We arrived at the Battlefield- but the visitor center was closed.. very limited hours of 1p-4p. I’m guessing due to staffing and Covid issues like everything else.

“In 1814 we took a little trip,

Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

and we fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans”

I can’t say “Battle of New Orleans” without that darn Johnny Horton song popping into my head! ha

The Battle of New Orleans was the final battle of the War of 1812 between a superior British force against a ragtag band of pirates, free people of color, Kentucky Riflemen, Tennessee Volunteers and one really pissed off British-hating Colonel Andrew Jackson. They say his intense hatred of the British started at age 13 during the American Revolution when he was ordered to clean a British Officer’s boots. He refused and was slashed with a sword across his face and hands… and thus started a vendetta against all things British, along with losing both of his brothers in the Revolution.

After the Revolution- once the British finally settled their little war with Napoleon in 1814, they felt they could finally put focus on reclaiming their stake on some North American territory and stop the US westward expansion. They felt that any land deals made with Napoleon (ahem.. the entire Louisiana Purchase) were null and void and shouldn’t have been able to be made. They felt like if they could recapture the territory, they could argue the US’s claim to the land was void.

They first targeted Washington DC, burning the White House (Dolly Madison, Washington’s portrait and all that). They next tried to capture Baltimore…but couldn’t quite win there…but never to be deterred, they proceeded to try to take New Orleans, thinking that if they could capture the Mississippi River, they could stop westward expansion and necessary trade routes.

Andrew Jackson was a military commander in Mobile that was warned of the British advance on New Orleans and immediately-his head exploded- and he made his way to New Orleans to ready troops to resist the British. He was suffering from dysentery at the time and is said to have not eaten in 8 days. He could barely stand when he arrived and spent the entire ordeal eating nothing but boiled rice. He had one month to ready an army… and…he didn’t have the people. He had 1,500 soldiers.. and it was estimated that the British had 12k-15k.

He was definitely backed into a corner. He was approached by legendary pirate Jean Lafitte with an offer to double-cross the British and fight for the Americans…if Jackson would free his brother Pierre from prison. (surprise, that wasn’t needed, Pierre escaped ha) Jackson was disgusted by the offer…. but, eventually, Jackson realized he didn’t have a choice. He got 2,500 Kentucky Riflemen, more militia from Tennessee, Lafitte’s pirates- who didn’t add a lot of men… but it did add a ton of weapons, cannons, and the knowledge of how to navigate the swamps- knowledge that ultimately led to victory. He also recruited free people of color and even Choctaw Indians (which is a little rich since Jackson earned his stripes fighting so successfully against the Creek Indians…) People were so willing to sign up to fight because rumors had spread about how in the Spanish wars, the British had raped and pillaged everything after their victories… the whole city was in hysterics over the possibility of British victory.

This bend of the Mississippi is where the Americans waited to fight the British as they came up the river. This area was surrounded by cypress swamp, making it impossible to flank or surround the US troops.

The British troops sorely miscalculated how rough the Americans would fight. They didn’t stand in a row and fire on command with drummers and pomp and circumstance… they hid in the swamp, fired a cannon from a sunken battleship at them.. and targeted all the officers first. Take out the head, the body dies… Once the US took out the British officers, this caused pure chaos for the troops… and quickly, the battle was won…. with fewer than 70 casualties on the US side…and over 2,000 on the British side. The battle itself lasted around 30 minutes.

The British withdrew back and continued to bomb a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi for another week or so…but eventually retreated.

The actual battlefield the fighting occurred on.
Chalmette Plantation house in between the Mississippi river bend where the British arrived and Jean Lafitte’s pirates fired at them… and the battlefield where the so many British soldiers would die.
An artsy photo I took from the battlefield site.

The crazy thing is, that when this battle was fought in January of 1815, the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed over a week before- marking an end to the War… but news hadn’t reached the US yet. Once it did, Jackson was hailed a hero…and eventually would be elected President on that popularity… and the story lives on as folklore of another example of our American Exceptionalism in the face of a stronger, better opponent….and it lives on in that stupid Johnny Horton song. ha

After we walked around the battlefield, we went to the Parish diner out in Chalmette on the recommendation of our morning Uber driver. He said it was one of his three favorite places in the city. So, since we didn’t have lunch plans yet, sounded like a winner to me! They had a huge menu. Tons of breakfast, tons of platters, sandwiches and more.
We decided to share the boudin brisket egg rolls as a starter. They came with a blueberry chipotle glaze sauce. They were pretty wonderful.
I had the Cajun Po-boy- Fried shrimp and a cajun sausage patty dressed on a bun. The roll was super dry and just kind of crumbled apart… so I just ate it open face with only the bottom bun- but it was good! and the fries were stellar.
Kegan got the fried pork chops meal. He said it was fine… but nothing to come back for again.

When we finished, we called an Uber to take us back downtown to walk along Frenchman street. Man was that guy weird. He spent the whole ride coughing. He was an old retired white guy from Massachusetts. Talked nonstop about hurricane science and then got into Katrina as we drove through the Lower Ninth ward… then started in with the “those people” comments. Could not get out of the car fast enough.

We started along Frenchman St, just seeing the bars and shops along the street. Frenchman street down this way really started growing in the 1980s. It was almost a direct response to the growth and tourism of Bourbon Street. As Bourbon got more touristy and loud… Frenchman became the spot for locals to gather and it has the highest concentration of music venues in the city.

We did find some live jazz coming out of Bamboula’s and hung around a bit to listen

We walked north and came across Washington Square Park with a playground… so we let Norah play for a while. She made friends with a 6 year old named Dwight. lol he was a cutie.

Walked a mile or so around the neighborhood… found lots of cool building street art.

Went to a shop called WE BITE Rare and Unusual Plants… but I forgot to take any photos. It was in a cool old church building… but they only really had like 6-8 types of plants inside… none of which were terribly rare…or unusual lol So I didn’t buy anything. I was hoping to clean house with some cool plants- maybe even a pitcher plant or venus fly trap or something… but alas… it was not to be.

We started walking south towards Studio Be where we had 4pm reservations to an art installation.

We passed a wall mural and this historical marker designating the site where Homer Plessy was arrested for violating the Separate Train Car Act- segregating black and white passengers.

Ruby Bridges- also pictured in the mural on the site, was from New Orleans, too. The school she was escorted into is still an active elementary school in the area.

Studio Be is a 35,000 sq ft warehouse filled with art by New Orleans artist Brandon “BMike” Odems, who strives to show the relationship between art and resistance. From his website: From film to murals to installations, Odums’ work encapsulates the political fervor of a generation of Black American activists who came of age amidst the tenure of the nation’s first Black president, the resurgence of popular interest in law enforcement violence, and the emergence of the self-care movement.

We really looked for this one all around the gallery, but I think it has already been moved elsewhere or sold… Its a super inspirational painting.
A portrait honoring civil rights activist and Representative John Lewis who said “never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
I just love the defiance of this one.
A mural dedicated to the Mardi Gras Indians in their suits

At 5pm, we had tickets to another art project called JAMNOLA. Which stands for Joy Art Music New Orleans. This was a visual art exhibit from various local artists and super cool.

Norah grabbed some props to do the 360 degree rotating glam cam…. her poor hat fell off mid-spin- but I think that might actually make the video better. lol

After JAMNOLA, we had our last escape room at The Escape Game downtown- it was called Special Ops- and we were undercover agents in a Moroccan Market trying to find a rogue bad guy’s secret bunker. We found it and then had to find the intended site of a nuclear bomb attack, and then disarm the bomb! It was a toughy! Definitely their best room. Norah saved the day- at the end Kegan and I could NOT figure out a certain section… and we worked on it for a while. Norah finally figured it out for us and it was our final task to disarm the bomb. Couldn’t have done it without her.

As we walked back to our hotel, it was a bit busier downtown than it has been… and it was the first time I saw a police presence camped out waiting for trouble.

We used the PostMates app to order sushi from a restaurant across downtown we didn’t want to walk to. ha I forgot to take photos but it wasn’t anything to write about. I forgot to order Norah’s California roll, then they missed including Kegan’s seaweed salad… but I gave Norah one of my rolls and she ate the whole thing plus an order of dumplings. She definitely got her mamma’s love for all asian food. ha

We had time before bed, so we watched the new Matrix revolutions 4th installment. I sure hope there are more planned, because that whole movie was like over an hour of back story building and like 15 minutes of movie. I was terribly disappointed. The whole thing just felt like a nostalgic throwback to all the original catchy pieces of the originals… but since I did love the originals, and all things 90s are cool again, (I saw a girl in black leather low rise pants today…. I’m going to pass on that trend this time around haha) I’m sure that’s what the creators are counting on. People like me that grew up on the Matrix throwing their money down whether it is good or bad. The ideas were fresh… but just maybe a little too big for the 1.5-2 hour format to create a cohesive roadmap. Would love to hear someone else’s thoughts on it.

As we’re headed to sleep, Kegan notices my old friend Tim Jackson has marked himself “interested” in an event in New Orleans for New Years Eve. He asks me if he’s in town. Heck, I don’t know… lol We talk every few months and see how the other is doing.. and we share an online movie streaming database haha…but I don’t keep up on his weekly whereabouts. lol He got married last year, he’s not my responsibility anymore. 🙂

I message him around midnight and sure enough he’s literally staying NEXT DOOR to the Roosevelt Hotel we were in! hahaha He’s well on his way already this evening in a bar and says “meet me downstairs now!” ha – I inform him I’m now across town in another hotel, I’m also old… and I have a 9 year old. I would not be joining him in a bar at 1am on a Thursday. ha

We agreed to check in tomorrow and meet up just to catch up for a bit. So I’m excited for that! It’s been 7 years since our paths have crossed- last time was when we still were working out in California. So it is time!

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