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  • Is there anything better than a city (or neighborhood) you can walk? My brief stay in Paris 16 years ago impressed on me how wonderful it is to be able to walk a city, to take a map and just explore. My feet were sore afterward, but I felt I had absorbed the city. Our exploration of New Orleans' French Quarter lasted about 4 hours, and I would never claim we did it justice in that short time, but I think we gave our kids a real taste of this bouillabaisse of language, music, cuisine and culture.

    The campground shuttle dropped us at Toulouse and Burgundy (that's ber-GUN-dee for non-orleansians). We walked our way south toward the water through throngs of folks visiting for the French Quarter Fest, which just so happened to be held on this weekend. On the way we passed the Camellia Grill, which I had visited 17 years earlier on a New Years visit to the Big Easy with my big brother Chris and two of my girlfriends. Continuing on, I realized that the heat and crowds demanded we find someplace to sit and refresh with some drink or snack or both. Just as I was about to pick anything, I realized we were half a block from Cafe du Monde! "Exxxcellent!" I thought to myself, in my best Monty Burns impression. So, excitedly, I guided my brood over to the world's best beignet and coffee establishment.

    The only hang up was this: finding a seat AND a clean table at Cafe du Monde during a festival was at best challenging. And naturally the first available table was far too sunny (but I wasn't about to seek out another). This is life: you think you've navigated to just the right time and place for the ultimate NOLA experience only to realize your kids will remember this moment as hot, crowded and messy. Live and learn.

    The best was yet to come! After we "enjoyed" our beignets and drinks, we ambled around a bit, stopping for a praline for the kids (in an air conditioned candy shop) and then onto the French Market. ALAS! We simply stumbled into some exceptional Dixie Land Jazz in the open air market. It was perfect.

    Mindful of our remaining time before the shuttle would carry us back to the campground, I decided we should start walking north again, looking for a dinner stop along the way. We skirted Jackson Square where much festival activity was taking place, cruising in and out of musical airspace as we walked. One spot had a funky, roving street band with a crowd stopped to listen. A quick view of the St. Louis Cathedral and we kept walking, passing young groups of street bands who would jam their way into and out of a tune as they walked, in search of captive audiences.

    I decided we should circle back to Camellia Grill, barring any more enticing stops along the way. It's a cool little joint with animated waiters and marble counter tops. These guys wear white waist coats and little black bow ties, and some of them sing. Four out of the five kids ordered Gumbo, and they felt like they had done something exceptionally New Orleans.

    From here, it was a few blocks back to Toulouse and Burgundy where we waited with other campers for the shuttle. Here we acquainted ourselves with a lovely couple who gave Lilly some beads they'd caught in a parade earlier in the day. It turns out they were from Quebec, and the Eastern Townships, no less! I told them we had visited the year before and the kids tried out some of their elementary French on them. A good time was had by all.

    Standing in the overcrowded shuttle on the way back to the campground we socialized with our fellow shuttle-goers. Back at camp, the kids changed quickly and we made our way to the pool for a quick swim. It was astoundingly lovely, with different colored lights in the water and fountain-like spigots shooting water into the pool. The breeze coming off Lake Pontchartrain was exceptional. I purchased an Abita amber beer from the bar and watched the kids cavort in the water for about an hour until it was time to call it a night.

    "Not a bad start to this adventure," I thought to myself as we headed back to the RV.
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