The Other Orlando: Harry P. Leu Garden

Every now and then we like to highlight an area of the Orlando, Florida region that is not related to the amusements and attractions area, such as Disney and Universal. We have many friends that have been there and done that and are looking for a different vibe. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a great place to not only look at foliage indigenous to the central Florida area but the Leu House provides a window into early Florida life. We finally visited this place yesterday after driving past it for the past 10 years and always saying, “we should visit this place one day.” With ideal spring weather we finally took the time to check this place out and we both agree that it is a gem.

The gardens are nicely laid out and provide a nice variety of focus areas for particular interests. I found the Vegetable Garden and Herb Garden to be particularly interesting since I’ve had some challenges with successfully growing anything edible in this hot Florida climate. I didn’t see tomatoes but I did see pole beans, cabbage, peppers and sugar cane. The herb garden had basil, culantro, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, and several varieties of mint. These weren’t farm size areas but the kind of size plot one would put together in a larger backyard. And if you are new to Florida and need a sense of what “works” and what doesn’t in this climate, this is a great place to get some ideas.

The Butterfly Garden wasn’t loaded with butterflies when we visited but was nicely laid out and was a nice place to sit while taking in the colorful early blooms of Spring. The White Garden seemed a little wilted in areas but the overall effect was nice. The Citrus Grove gave us a chance to see a variety of limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges up close and it was good to see that the ripened fruit is donated to local food banks. If you like camellias this is the place to visit since it has the largest collection of camellias in the southeast. Leu Garden is also a popular location for weddings and we observed members of wedding parties wandering the park looking for the wedding party preparation area.

The present Leu House and Museum located on the grounds was built in 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of the house are given every half hour and they end at 3:30pm (the gardens close at 5) and they get more crowded as the day progresses. The museum tour is included in the price of the $10 admission to the Garden. The house is generally staged to look like it did in the 1920s with some of the original furnishings and photos included in the mix. Overall it was a nice way to break up our walk through the Garden.

We ended with a walk to the Wyckoff Overlook , a deck overlooking Lake Rowena. It was nice to observe turtles chasing each other in the water. I suppose that at times there are alligators in the area but there weren’t any at this time. May is alligator mating season so they should be more visible at that time. I’m looking forward to our next visit at another time of the year when different flowers and roses will be in bloom but I think I’ll avoid the alligators.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some

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Butterfly Garden

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Leu House

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Vegetable Garden

Back on Track in New Orleans

It’s been quite a while since we’ve written up any of our travels. We’ve been traveling quite a bit lately but we’ve been time-challenged to put all our experiences in “print.” But, I’ve been verbally regaling my friends with some of our old and new travel stories and most have said they should be written up, so we are going to try to get back on track with this.

We kick off this year’s stories with our most recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. This is not our first trip (I think it’s our 5th) and it was instigated by my having to attend and present at a conference located not far from the Superdome. Art got the chance to visit some museums while I was working and we got together in the evening to eat dinner and exchange our stories for the day. We reserved two weekend days to go places together and by the end we realized that we pretty much ate our way through New Orleans (something we always do).

The good news is that we ate at some new places instead of our “favorites.” That’s mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation at Mr. B’s Bistro, where I salivate over the BBQ Shrimp. BBQ Shrimp in New Orleans is not like shrimp on the grill. It’s swimming in butter, spices and Worcestershire sauce. Messy but gooooood! So I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to sit down to, what I consider, a dream meal. We instead were treated to some new dreams.

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

Our first dinner was complements of an industry association that I belong to and was reserved for the Fellows of the association. We were celebrating 50 years of “Fellowdom” at Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant in the Warehouse District of town. Art and I are Emeril fans so we were stoked for a great meal and got it. Starters just kept being presented at our table before we ever made a commitment to ordering anything off the 4-course limited but inspired menu for the event. Jerk Chicken, Spicy Shrimp, Crab Balls, and more were constantly being replaced along with the wine. Spicy but not so spicy that your eyes would water. I picked the Delmonico Chicken Clemenceau entrée and it was deliciously accented with ham. I topped it off with a small creme brulee – not really remarkable but nice to end with. Overall, a wonderful dining experience and the chance to see old friends.

The next night Art ate at the hotel restaurant, Lüke. And even though he had a hamburger, I know he had a better meal than I did. I went to a conference event at Mardi Gras World. This place offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Mardi Gras floats when they are not on parade. The floats were beautiful and the place was huge but the food was less than stellar. Not bad but on par with what you can get at the Convention Center. However, Art’s hamburger was a thing of beauty and he was thoroughly satisfied with his meal.

NOMA Sculpture Garden Tableau

The final day of the conference we dined at GW Fins. The conference finally over, we made our plans for the weekend with a friend of mine who was also attending the event. We had heard good things about this restaurant and weren’t disappointed. This was not a cheap place and on par price wise with Emeril’s, but well worth it. Art, of course, ordered the most dramatically presented appetizer, Smoked Oysters. You can smell them as they are being brought to the table and smoke wafts throughout the dining room for at least 3 minutes. He loved them. I had the Wood-Grilled Gulf Shrimp. Less dramatic but just as tasty. We all had some form of snapper for dinner. Art had the Jolt Snapper, which was an evening special, while I had the Red Snapper with Shrimp Etoufee and Jasmine Rice. The Jasmine rice was a little too sticky for my taste but the rest of the dish was excellent. Of course, we had dessert – even though we really didn’t need it. I decided to go with the Coconut Sorbet – refreshing and creamy and Art went for something called the Salty Malty. The Salty Malty was a pie with a pretzel crust and malt-flavored cream filling. A sweet salty taste treat.

Reading this you would think that all we did was eat during this trip. Eating in New Orleans is definitely a memorable experience but we had a great time walking along Royal Street in the French Quarter and checking out the antiques stores. One standout was M.S. Rau Antiques. We were definitely just window shopping at this place. It’s like walking through a decorative arts museum except that all the items are for sale. Definitely worth stopping for.

On Saturday we did more walking and riding and less eating. We picked up a $3 unlimited-ride day-pass for the streetcars and buses at Walgreen and were set for the day. The three of us headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and Sculpture Garden via the Canal Street Streetcar. The Sculpture Garden is free to the public so we checked that out first. Serenity is the key word here with some visually striking art along the way.

This particular weekend the NOMA was not only filled with its regular artifacts and exhibits but beautiful flower arrangements were displayed in each of the exhibit areas and added liveliness to the place that enhanced the objects on display. (Bring your AAA card to save $2 off the adult admission or look for a coupon on one of the local tourist maps.) The rest of the afternoon was spent riding the different streetcars and buses through the Garden District, with its magnificent houses and parks. This area is a beautiful counterpoint to the rowdy French Quarter (especially on Bourbon Street). The parks are quiet and the atmosphere is far less frenzied. We ended our day at the Superior Seafood Restaurant where I was able to dine on some BBQ Shrimp – on par with Mr. B’s Bistro and costing about $5 less. Even though it’s not in the heart of the tourist district this place was still very busy (and a little loud) and had a great menu for seafood lovers. And, being located on St Charles Street, within an easy walk to a Streetcar stop, this place turned out to be very convenient. Our hotel was located on the same streetcar line and it was an easy trip back. A full day of traveling all over New Orleans for $3 a person – we were literally back on track (streetcar track – that is) to enjoying New Orleans just like in days gone by.

Priscilla, one half of the Travel2some