New Orleans Visit
April 22-26, 2011

*Click on any photo for larger view.

 Now that I have some free time, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences about this wonderful historic city. Our flights out on 4/22 were smooth and uneventful. Security was an unexpected breeze and we arrived tired but in good spirits Friday evening. After checking in at our French Quarter Hotel, the Dauphine Orleans about a block away from Bourbon Street, we strolled over to that famous street. Basically, Bourbon Street is one long street party full of bars, strip joints and gift shops. And drunks, lots of stumbling puking drunks carrying everything from Big Ass Beers to Fish Bowls of booze. And puke. It smells. We found Bourbon Street Harley, a Harley Davidson Motorclothes store, bought some shirts and walked the rest of the way down the street. It is colorful with neon and had some funny things going on, like transvestite directing traffic, but unless your goal on vacation is to get falling down drunk and do nothing else, one walk down this street is enough. And for God's sake don't take children there!

  
Bourbon Street


The next day, Saturday, we hit the streets walking, thinking to go to the famous Cafe Du Monde for morning coffee and beignets. We had a map but were not yet familiar with the city so ended up buying Starbucks before we found it. The line was about a hundred people long and we decided coffee and a donut was not worth a long boring line wait. Voodoo Harley is owned by the Bourbon Street Harley folks who told us that Voodoo HD was a couple doors down from Du Monde, so we cut our losses on coffee and headed there to take care of BFC/Rhema's Reality business--we had to get our picture taken in our Rhema's Reality tee shirts to send back home in support of our friend Rhema, a 14 YO cancer patient who with her friend Jacob started a non-profit to raise money for childrens cancer research. The folks in the Harley shop were great, letting us take down their custom painted gas tank to hold up for our pic. But then, that is one of the highlights of NOLA--the people are terrific, friendly and fun.

 

Since we were at the French Market, the original and oldest marketplace in New Orleans, we strolled through that before heading back to the hotel to change out of the black RR tee shirts (it was already 80 degrees out). The French Market, like Bourbon Street, is pretty much a tourist trap and nowhere near as interesting for shopping as our own beloved Pike Place Market. We passed Jackson Square with its street artists and horse carriage rides for sale and wound our way back, taking pics as we went and absorbing the vibes. There is music everywhere! The French Quarter is also full of interesting archictecture, lacy ironwork and shopping everywhere. It does show its age, but also its character. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of gaiety, color and fun. I was hot and my feet hurt when we got back to the hotel, but a change of clothes later, we were back on the street for more gawking. More aimless walking got us to Royal Street, probably the most expensive shopping avenue in the Quarter. It was full of high-end antique stores (we saw a clock for sale for $58,000!), jewelry stores, and art galleries. This was where we ran into Nicholas Cage. We had found this cool shop that specialized in antique weapons and coins so we just HAD to go in. With the combination of Spanish, French and American influences that shaped New Orleans, there was a lot of history in that store! When we came out and were deciding which way to go next, that's when Troy spotted Mr. Cage standing right there by the window of the shop we came out of. He nudged me and pointed him out. I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that; I mean, my God! I was just watching this guy in one of his movies on TV that morning and there he was, 2 steps away from me! So, that's what I said to Nicholas Cage. I looked up at him (he's pretty tall) and said "Wow! I was just watching you on TV this morning."

"Oh, what was I doing?" he asked.

My overstimulated brain trying to block my tongue, I was glad I didn't stutter. "Family Man," I answered.

"Oh, great! Have a happy Easter" he said as he continued his way into the store we'd just left.

We stood there at the window for a few minutes, watching him in the shop. I admit I was thinking about going in and taking a photo--he was letting someone take their photo with him when Troy first spotted him. But he was trying to enjoy a day with his family so we decided to thank our lucky stars and let him be. I've looked him up on IMDB since returning home to find out that he is in New Orleans making a movie right now. The movie is an action flick called Medallion. I'll be seeing that when it comes out :)

After several hours of beating the streets in the heat, we decided to take a carriage ride. Only mules are allowed to be used as carriage pullers in the French Quarter. The driver said it's because they stand up better to the heat and are smarter than horses. He took us on a ride around several blocks, pointing out things like a location where Interview With A Vampire was filmed, cracking jokes, answering questions and sharing history. We enjoyed it a lot. By that night I was so wiped all I could do was fall into bed--an amazing, soft comfy bed btw, but Troy heard noise outside and when he checked it out, turned out to be a fireworks show visible from our hotel window. So Saturday night officially ended with a bang :)

 
 


Sunday was Easter and there was to be a parade. Part of it was lining up to start outside a restaurant where we were meeting our guide for a cemetery tour. We didn't use one of the huge tour companies for this (there's one where the guides dress up in period clothing, and another that just gets really large groups). Instead, we had our hotel desk person set it up and were fortunate that it had a group of just 5 of us so we could really focus on our guide and ask anything we wanted without slowing down the tour. We had not been able to find the cemetery on our own, mainly because its not actually IN the French Quarter which we had not left yet. St Louis #1 Cemetery sits just behind the Quarter, right across Rampart Street, one of the avenues that defines the borders of French Quarter (they are Decatur Street on the river side, Rampart Street to the rear, Esplenade on one side and Canal Street on the other). St Louis#1 is the first and oldest cemetery in NO. This is where the tomb of Marie Laveau is as well as many other more important names from New Orleans history. While the tour was interesting, had we known where the cemetery was before hand, we'd have saved the $20 pp it cost and just wandered over on our own. If you plan to do this, keep in mind that the cemeteries all close at 3 PM. On Easter, it closed at noon.

   


We strolled back across the Quarter towards the river on our way to our next event, a lunch cruise on the Steamer Natchez, a real steam-powered paddleboat. Although it was built in 1971, it is an authentic reproduction of the type of boats typically taking passengers up and down the river in the 1800's and the only one in the area whose paddlewheel is actually steam-powered. It was colorful, full of music, including a performance before the trip by an organist playing a steam calliope on top of the boat! A jazz band played inside during the voyage and outside, there was live narration about the river, history, shipping laws and sites we were passing. It was expensive, but worth the money if you can afford it. It was only about 5 when we finished the cruise so we took the opportunity to take the streetcar through the Garden District, also known as the American sector. Every local we had talked to either said we had to do this or asked if we'd done it, so we had to go. Plus, with aching feet, an easy ride on a streetcar was a good option for tired tourists. The St. Charles Streetcar starts just over Canal Street on St Charles Street (not ON Canal Street--that' a different ride that will take you up to the newer fancier Metairie Cemetery) and runs through the heart of the Garden District where the Pitts live in one of the many beautiful huge houses originally built by the increasingly powerful and affluent Americans whose ideas about architecture was very very different from those of the French. Loyola and Tulane Universities, as well as Audubon Park, are also on this route. We took photos out the car windows but this area deserves its own walking exploration. We'll do that next time.

 
 


The next day was our scheduled departure. We had time for breakfast then headed out. Shortly after arriving at our departure gate, our flight time changed to a delay. A couple hours later, it changed again and shortly after that was cancelled altogether. We were travelling through Dallas, and the tornado watch there shut down all flights. Oh darn, we had to spend one more night in New Orleans. I called the Dauphine Orleans, got rates and discovered we could afford another night there. Our new room was actually a little nicer than the first. I hadn't known the rates because we'd booked the hotel as part of a package, but now that I know, I'll stay there again with or without a package. It was only about 4 PM when we got back, so we had time for another walk to another area consistently recommended by the locals. This time we headed to the opposite side of the French Quarter from the Garden District, a colorful little suburb called Fauberg Marigny because I wanted to see the houses there and maybe catch some music on Frenchman Street. Marigny is just a step across the street from the French Quarter proper, but the buildings are more classic French residential with colorful little "shotgun houses", so named because of their straight, corridor-like construction that would allow a shotgun blast to go completely in one end and out the other if fired at the front door. We stopped on the way for dinner at a hole-in-the-wall called Coop's, recommended by our hotel desk clerk. We got there in time for an immediate table and some wonderful food. It was crowded with people waiting outside to get in by the time we left. Frenchmen Street was quiet at that time of day, too early for the bands to be in, so we just looked for photo ops. Marigny was where we found the cute little cottage with the glass flowers and cool doorknocker that I posted several photos of. I hope to go back there for more exploration next time.

     

 



That was all we had time for as we had to leave the hotel at 6 AM the next morning to catch our rebooked 8 AM flight. I was left with impressions and memories of color, music, sunshine and happiness as our flight took off. We agreed to go back at the same time, Easter weekend, next time we go because the weather was great and the crowds were low because the timing falls between Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival which takes place the last weekend of April/first weekend of May annually. There is so much more to see and do than can be done in just a couple of days that we just HAVE to go again.

In summary, I've decided to break it down into a few basics from what people have asked me since I got back.

Q: "Why New Orleans?"

A: Tired of cold and wet at home, and lovers of good music and Cajun food, the sunshine, fun atmosphere, unique local culture and history and affordable price compared to Mexico or Hawaii this time of year made this city a perfect getaway from the gray days of WA.

Q: "What did you like best?"

A: The general ambiance. The atmosphere of fun. Never being more than a couple of steps away from music. The sunshine. It is almost impossible to be depressed in this combination of sunshine and activity. The people were friendly, the food was good, but the years and culture also add this old-world feeling, so it's kind of like going to Europe without needing a passport or translator.

Activities:

Been There Done That (the tourist stuff to do once, over priced and overhyped): Bourbon Street, paid cemetery tour, French Market

Loved it, will do again: streetcar ride, Gumbo Pot Restaurant for gumbo and the best bread pudding EVER, Coops restaurant, Oceana Restaurant, Dauphine Orleans Hotel, walking around to take it all in

Stuff for next time we didn't get to this time: Swamp tour, guided city tour (ladies at airport did this and learned a variety of info from Katrina stuff to where the Pitt's house is), get off streetcar and walk through Garden District for photos, Canal Streetcar to Metairie Cemetery, Audubon Park, zoo. If we can get to half these things, it will just be making a dent in what's left to do here!

Let The Good Times Roll!

More images at my Facebook New Orleans Album 1 and Album 2 (you do not have to have a Facebook account to view these)

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