Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is New Orleans good for kids? - Part 4

Day 4 – Audubon Zoo and Audubon Insectarium

Again, we started with breakfast at the hotel and then made our way to the streetcar line since the Audubon Zoo is in the Garden District, so is way too far to walk from the downtown area. We were waiting at a yellow Car Stop sign for a few minutes before a nice couple informed us that the streetcar was not currently serving that area (construction or something), so advised us to go to the bus connection, which we did and then boarded a streetcar. The ride through the Garden District took us past numerous (hundreds?) of stately historic homes, many in the Victorian styles. I kept reminding the girls to LOOK at those houses since they were so beautiful, though they were continuously distracted by things like, oh, the Mardi Gras beads they had on. The man sitting behind us on the streetcar, who was a local, advised us to stay on the car until the end and that the zoo would be near that last stop. We continued riding along past Loyola College and approached Tulane before chatting with some others on the streetcar (our “advisor” had gotten off the streetcar a couple of stops back) and finding out that we had already passed the stop for the bus to the zoo. Oh, and Hans realized that he forgot to grab our Audubon tickets, so after getting off and back onto the streetcar and catching the bus to the zoo, we had no choice but to purchase zoo tickets again.

The morning frustrations over, we headed into the Audubon Zoo on what was a practically perfect weather day. The sun was shining, but it was just the perfect temperature, at least at first, and only a bit warm by the time we were done. We were immediately impressed by the lush flora at the zoo and attractive displays of fountains and statuary. Even better was the close proximity visitors are allowed to almost all of the animals. We managed to get some fabulous photos of the lion, elephants, white tigers, and many other animals.

One other thing that Cora and Greta enjoyed about the zoo was the presence of Spanish moss they could readily find on the ground beneath several large live oak trees that were bedecked with quite a lot of the moss. They even brought home a chunk of Spanish moss to take to show and tell at school.

We spent quite a while at the zoo, not leaving until about 1:00 or so, returning via the gorgeous St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District aboard a streetcar until we got closer to downtown and had to get on the bus again for a few blocks. Having recently visited the zoos in Nashville, TN, and Atlanta, GA, I would easily rank the Audubon Zoo above both of those.

After a quick lunch and a trip back to our hotel to get the Audubon pass, we went to the Audubon Insectarium. Having never been to anything like this before, none of us had any idea what to expect, though we had read and heard good things about it, so were prepared for a fun museum-going experience. Even better was that the front desk clerk was able to refund the extra zoo tickets we had purchased earlier that morning when Hans gave her our pass tickets.

The Insectarium starts and continues throughout with a visually stimulating environment floor-to-ceiling. In the entry hallway, there are ceiling fans missing the blades, but with large insects “flying” around the center posts. There are quite a few live insects on display, many that are familiar (roaches) and many that were unfamiliar, at least to us. There were some bugs that looked just like green leaves and others that looked just like brown leaves. A separate section was off to the side for insects that live underground and even had an animatronic spider that Hans and I first spotted and then guided Cora and Greta into looking near the spot where we knew the spider was about to appear. Cora cried. Bad parenting there, but thankfully she didn’t have a bad dream about spiders that night. There was a typical pantry with a glass front showing cockroaches helping themselves to all of the wonderful food that had been left unsecured by the humans. The employee working in the main hallway pointed out to us that, for a good reason, the dung beetle display was right outside the public restroom.

Next was the Tiny Termite Café where we were offered the chance to taste chocolate-covered crickets and/or chocolate chirp cookies (chirp!). We girls decided that Hans should try one first and that we would decide after his sample whether we would partake or not. The look on his face while eating one little chocolate-covered cricket told us that we definitely did NOT want to try one ourselves. Even Hans, who eats most anything, didn’t want to try one of the cookies. We moved on to other exhibits at the Insectarium. I wonder how many people who visit try a cricket and then how many who try a cricket ask for seconds. Not many, probably.

We got to see termites in action and wood that had been damaged by termites. We watched the 6-minute film that included vibrating seats, spritzes of water, and other surprises. Greta got scared by that one. Next came the butterfly room, which was quite nice. They had many butterflies we had not seen before and one large butterfly from South America landed on Hans’s upper arm and stayed long enough for us to get several great photos. The employee told us that if we stood very still the butterflies were more likely to land on us, so we all froze in place for a few minutes. Only Cora had a butterfly land on her, though Greta and I were both flirted with a bit.

After the Insectarium, we headed over towards the French Quarter to find the restaurant that Hans’s friend Greg had recommended as a place we could meet him for dinner. Well, as we walked up Iberville Street, we saw some ladies in very questionable clothing, so we opted to head back towards the river and Decatur Street where things were not so risqué. We ended up meeting Greg and having dinner at a place called Primo’s. Each of us enjoyed our meals and the conversation, then Greg suggested that we head across the street to Café du Monde. So, Greta, Cora and I had beignets one last time while Hans and Greg enjoyed some coffee. Afterwards we walked with Greg back to the parking lot where his car was (he drove down from Baton Rouge) and then continued on toward our hotel to get ready for our early departure the next morning (train leaves New Orleans at 7 am!).

Check back tomorrow for the last post in this series: Day 5 - Train from New Orleans to Anniston

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