Apr 23, 2015

NOLA: Bar hopping, balcony dining and finding Ignatius

Even though The April and I had spent 13 hours on the road to get to New Orleans on our recent road trip, we wasted no time in starting our adventures in the Big Easy once we got settled in to the Prince Conti Hotel in the French Quarter.  Like most tourists who stay that close to Bourbon Street, we decided to begin our trip with a walk up and down the Quarter’s most famous section. 

To be completely honest, we had a mini mission in mind – to find the statue of Ignatius Reilly, the main character in John Kennedy Toole’s masterpiece novel “A Confederacy of Dunces.”  If you haven’t read the book, and you love New Orleans as much as I do, please do so.  The city is as much a character in the novel as all the crazies you’ll encounter within its pages.  And this excellent blog chronicles all of the sites in the novel and their present-day appearance.

With finding Ignatius as our goal, we walked Bourbon Street to Canal Street, took a right and quickly located the statue right where the opening scene in the novel takes place – in front of the old D.H. Holmes department store building, the current location of the Hyatt New Orleans Hotel. 

Ignatius and me.

Apr 16, 2015

A commoner dines at Paul’s Café, Ponchatoula, La.

It’s a relatively easy and simple 12- to 13-hour drive from Springfield, Ill., to New Orleans, one which I make to begin most road trips to the big Easy. However, by the time I reach the Louisiana state line, I’m often ready to get off the beaten path and explore my old stomping grounds.  So, on my most recent road trip to New Orleans with The April, we chose to get off the interstate at Ponchatoula, La., in search of lunch … and perhaps an adult beverage.  We found very satisfying results for both at Paul’s Café

I’ve always been a little biased in favor of Ponchatoula, which is one of my favorite small towns in Louisiana.  As you head south on I-55, it’s the last town before you hit the bayou.  Located on near the north shore of both Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, it’s surrounded by rich farmland and benefits from a warm climate that is apparently ideal for growing some of the best strawberries in the world. (Coincidentally, they also use Louisiana strawberry juice to make Abita’s Strawberry Harvest Lager.) 

So, Ponchatoula has legitimacy to call itself the “Strawberry Capital of the World.”  They also have an annual festival to prove it.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to attend.  It seems like quite the blog-worthy adventure to me.  

In addition to the world-famous strawberries, many people flock to Ponchatoula for the many antique stores, art galleries and curiosity shops contained within its historic downtown.  In my opinion, this has given Ponchatoula a bit of a New Orleans-style bohemian vibe that blends remarkably well with a small town feel and friendly citizens that earned Ponchatoula a second nickname as the “Mayberry of the Deep South.”

Apr 4, 2015

A commoner’s 10 most tolerable Bourbon Street bars

My next pilgrimage to New Orleans is right around the corner, and I’m very excited to bring The April with me on this trip.  She has not been to the Big Easy since the 1990s (I can’t even imagine missing New Orleans for that long), and like most first-time tourists, or those who have not been there in forever, I recommend spending at least one night on Bourbon Street.

As a frequent visitor, I usually prefer to go to the less touristy drinking establishments in town, but I do “get it” when it comes to Bourbon Street’s allure.  With that in mind, here are 10 Bourbon Street bars I find most tolerable (many, in fact, I truly enjoy):

Apr 1, 2015

Acting upon a Wild Hare

Until recently, I only thought of the small central Illinois town of Elkhart as yet another village clutching to its historical connections to the legendary U.S. Route 66.  And when I heard they had a really nice café there for lunch, I instantly thought of your typical small-town main street diner where a few residents and farmers go to pass the time and discuss the weather over endless cups of coffee and all-day breakfasts. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...