Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New Orleans!

So I'm not sure if you remember this or not but I took a trip to New Orleans last November...

Yes, this is it! Finally writing about the city.

Here is the picture that sums it up.

I took this shot yesterday because those are the things that are still with me from the trip. My extra padded hips and the bunged up toe. We walked and ate. And ate and walked. And then walked and ate.

In planning the trip I thought that we would take the street cars around more than we did so I packed boots. I shouldn't have. After about 30 miles I finally gave in and bought some slip ons. But the damage was done by that point. Bruised my toenail and I am finally losing it. So it's all wrapped up and protected and I am sans a professional pedicure for another few months.

We also ate the best food. Everywhere we went was the best food. It was crazy how good the food was. After about 400,000 calories I gave in and decided that hips are good. Okay, maybe not, but there is still some extra hanging around that I am putting firmly on the shoulders of New Orleans.

Where to begin?

New Orleans has never been on my list of "must go" places. I don't drink much. I don't like crowds. I really don't like crowds of people who have had a lot to drink. Bourbon Street is like my worst nightmare come to life. I just could not imagine it. But I do love old cemeteries. I do love interesting people. I love water and warm weather. I love a good story and I love good food. So the loves outweighed the rest and when Brent asked if I wanted to join him after his conference I said sure.

Then the planning, what should we see? Most people I know this ends at Bourbon Street and drinking. But like I said, not really my thing. I asked around and my friend Raquel sent me her links to restaurants to try. Another few friends sent their "must haves" as well and I quickly realized that food was going to be an issue. As in there are too many places and not enough stomach space. So I wrote down a couple places we had to try. Cafe Du Monde and Willie Mae's Scotch house for instance and then just types of food. I wanted a shrimp po' boy. I wanted a muffaletta. And then what I would do is add Best to the food and we would go to whatever popped up.

I also booked two tours. We were going to see the houses in the Garden District and do a cemetery tour. I could have done a ghost tour, a haunted tour, or a vampire tour, but I just wanted the cemetery, not the rest. Though I have heard from a lot of people that the haunted tour is great. So if that's your thing, have at it.

The first tour we got there early, as is our way, and stopped to get coffee. While we were sitting in the coffee shop I look over at a table behind us and there are three people having coffee there. All dressed in black with splashes of purple. I thought to myself, "witches" just because it was New Orleans and of course there would be witches hanging out in the coffee shop. AND THEN THEY STARTED TALKING ABOUT A WITCH CONFERENCE! Sorry, didn't mean to shout but it was so freaking perfect I had a hard time not vibrating with joy. Not just because they were talking about witches with a nonchalant air, but because it was about a conference. Not a coven, not a wiccan ritual, not anything woo woo sacred sounding but a freaking conference. See, it seems like there is this group that doesn't want to let in some of the younger VooDoo practitioners to their conference because it's really strictly for witches, and though they (who was they? the people talking? the people holding the conference? come on! give me details!) were both voodoo and witch the people who weren't going to be in the conference weren't also witches, just voodoo.

People, let me tell you, this is gold. Sitting in New Orleans, drinking a cup of coffee before taking a tour that was starting at a cemetery listening to witches bitch about bureaucracy? You can't make this shit up...

Alas they packed up their things and left and we had to get to our tour anyway but rest assured those three will be in a story soon.

Okay, so the first tour. We used Haunted History Tours for both of our tours and I do recommend them. There are a ton of tour companies around, and you can just pick up a tour guide in the French Quarter as well, but I researched, read TripIt and Yelp reviews and settled on this one. Really happy with them. Okay, so plug over, the first tour was the Garden District but it started in Lafayette Cemetery. Our guide Jesse explained the whole burial process which is fascinating. And kind of creepy. But mostly fascinating. And we looked at few graves of note. This is the only cemetery that allows filming anymore, so if you see one on a TV show or in a movie, this is it. Which was pretty cool.

Every cemetery needs a cat right?

So part way through our tour of the cemetery we start getting followed by a cat. Every time someone stops to pet it or pays attention to it, it runs away. Because cat. So finally I stop and kneel down and he comes over to be pet. Because cat whisperer. Then I made a mistake. I stopped petting him for a second to listen to Jesse talk about a grave we were stopped at. *SLASH* he reached out and snagged my arm, he was not done being pet, thank you very much. Little shit. So I lectured him about being nicer to the next person who pet him. He gave me a head but and got a few more pets from me before I headed off. A guy behind our group knelt down to pet him and got hissed at. Dude, this was no amateur hour cat. 

Then on to the houses. If you dig old houses, if you dig interesting architecture, if you just want to see a bunch of houses famous people have lived or currently live in, take this tour. Gorgeous places. I don't want to live in the south. It's too hot. Too sticky. And I would weigh 300 pounds, but if I did, I would want one of these houses. 

And they all had so much history...

Okay, so at the end of the tour we stop across the street from Commander's Palace. I am sure it was on everyone's list but for some reason just didn't stick with me. So as Jesse is describing it and saying that if you have a chance you should go, I am thinking, sure, why not. So Brent and I decided to grab a light lunch/snack there before heading off to see more sites.

Oh my god.

I didn't get a picture of the gumbo because I ate it too quickly. But it seriously turned both Brent and I in to foodies describing it. I don't think I really understood terms like depth of flavor and layers of flavor before I ate that gumbo. This was their bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce. It was incredible. If we go back we will be stopping here for a real meal. It is incredible. And the level of service? Insane. 

So the rest of our day we spent site seeing on our own. Went and walked around the French Quarter. Spent some time on Bourbon Street. It was like Vegas with a spin. Or I guess Vegas must be like Bourbon Street since New Orleans is older right? But anyway...it was a Thursday afternoon and it was still crowded (though not terrible) and people were still pretty toasty (though not nearly as much as later in the evening) and it was hustling. Interesting, very cool sites to see. 

Then we decided to head back to the hotel and grab some dinner. One of the places Raquel recommended was a block away from the hotel so we headed there for dinner. Cochon Butcher is the fancy half, we ate at their butcher shop, The Butcher-Swine Bar and Grill. Definitely not for the feint of heart and strictly for carnivores. When we walked in they were prepping a pig behind the counter. Full on pig laid out to be butchered. I thought it was cool. Brent could have done without that part. On to dinner. 
Muffaletta. Check. 

Next day!

Cafe du Monde. Check.

You have to right? Very tasty. And I'm not even a fan of powdered sugar normally. I did shake off most of it from my bites, but not all. It was good. Crowded, but not horrible.

Then on to the next tour. We were meeting at Reverend Zombie's VooDoo Shop to start. Just the fact that it was going to start at a VooDoo shop made me smile. Only in New Orleans right? So we walk up to the shop to check in and NO WAY!! Remember the witches from yesterday? They are here! THEY RUN THIS SHOP! OH MY GOD! Yes, I was this excited. I love shit like this. Now our fates are tied and they are truly going to be with me forever. Unless I insulted them yesterday by eavesdropping and mocking them for their PTA Meeting sensibilities in a VooDoo world...oh no do you think I'm cursed? Were they following me? Is there a chicken out there bleeding out next to my doll? Yes, these are the things Brent had to listen to as I gleefully skipped around planning a story in my head. He's a very patient man. 

Our guide was Ernie, who was not in fact one of the VooDoo witches from the day before, but a history buff with a wealth of knowledge about New Orleans and a list of books to read if you wanted to know more. He was awesome. Now the one thing I will add to this part is that one of the groups touring with us included an older lady, like 70s-80s older who had trouble walking. This is not the tour to take if you cannot walk far. You have to walk to the cemetery, around the cemetery and back from the cemetery. I cannot imagine it if you were having issues. Also, we did it in November and it was warm, if you were going in the summer you should make sure you book it early in the day or do the ghost tour at night or you would roast! 

Bring your offering and your request...

Lots of history, lots of cool graves, including Marie Laveau, the VooDoo Queen. The picture up there is of one of the three graves she is believed to be buried in. There is the official one, and then two like this, where stories are she is, or at least part of her. Who knows...But yes, the VooDoo Queen of New Orleans is buried in a Catholic cemetery. So many things for me to say here but instead I will just smile...

After the tour ended I checked my maps and saw we were only a little over a mile away from the next place we wanted to eat so we decided to walk. 

This was the only time we probably shouldn't have. Now I have to say I have never seen nicer people than we did in New Orleans. At one point during the trip I was checking my phone for directions and Brent was looking at a map near the street cars when the guy driving the street car stopped and leaned out the window to ask if we needed directions. This was sort of standard. Everyone was nice and so southern polite. And this is coming from someone who lives in Portland where the first thing tourists usually say is, "Everyone is kind of freaky nice here." so if we noticed a high level of nice, there was a high level of nice. Anyway...this was not the neighborhood two middle aged white tourists should have been walking through. And I would not suggest it after dark for anyone. 

But it still made me laugh. At one point we walked by a group of late teen early twenty year olds. As we were coming toward them they were watching us and we heard the, "who are they? they must be lost be walking around here." And I thought, well, here we go. (I grew up in a fairly rough part of the country, young kids acting tough is not out of place there so that's what I was expecting) but as we walked by after a little flexing and staring from them we got a, "How y'all doing?" "Great, thanks and you?" And we went on by. They just needed to let us know we were out of place. Which was fine by me.

And at the end of this probably not a good idea to walk walk we found Willie Mae's Scotch House. 

I have never in my life had fried chicken this good. You can skip the macaroni and cheese, as much as that pains me to say it was just average. But the red beans and rice were the creamiest I have ever had and the chicken was just...I have no words for how good this fried chicken is. Just go. But take a cab. 

After that we hit the park and saw the sculpture garden and the botanical displays and walked around there a bit. We hopped on the street car to head back in to town after walking around there for a few hours. My feet were giving out by this point so we headed to the mall near the convention center and found me a pair of glorious slip ons that fit and look a bit like slippers. I was in heaven at that point and we kept right on going with the week!

So after some more random site seeing around the French Quarter we headed out to dinner. I know, right? How could we be hungry? But all of the walking, and the fact that we shared everything helped. So what was left on the list? Po'boys! And the recommendation was Parkway Bakery and Tavern. It's a local place, and some of the locals aren't super amused with the influx of tourists, but fuck 'em, the sandwich was worth a little attitude. 

Not to mention the bread pudding.

Last day! 

One thing New Orleans is just now catching up with is a great place to have breakfast. There are a few places that do a nice Jazz Brunch on the weekends, but just breakfast isn't as easy to find. Unless you are me, and then you find this place. 
 This was Elizabeth's Restaurant. And I think it was the only time Brent was worried I had steered him wrong. It's on the other side of the French Quarter from where we were so we took a cab. As the driver went farther and farther in to this back neighborhood away from the main spaces he started looking at me like, are you sure? I wasn't. I mean I got it off of the internet. The cab driver had never heard of it and was using GPS. Who knew what we would find?

Candied bacon. That's what we found.
And grits.
And biscuits and gravy. Though I'm going to be honest here, don't get biscuits and gravy in New Orleans. They do a weird butter gravy thing. It's just not right. Stick with the grits.

Anyway...fortified with that giant breakfast we headed off to the French Market and more French Quarter sites. Then Mardis Gras World. Which was really fun. They showed how they made the floats and you got to see all of the various in progress works as well as see how they re-purpose old floats in to new ones. 
And do new carvings as well.
Then we wrapped up with more time in the French Quarter. More beignets from Cafe Beignet, which I might actually like better than Cafe du Monde. The beignets were good and you get live jazz in the courtyard. We went back later in the day to drink and listen to more jazz. 

We hit up the aquarium as well. I like aquariums and this one was nice. And it was near where we were so a nice break from the drunk crowds and in to the kid crowds. Not sure which is worse. 

Then back out for our last run at Bourbon Street we stopped and had a snack at Bourbon House. Brent decided if I was going to keep drinking then a little food would probably be a good idea. 

BBQ shrimp and a crab cake to split. Then off to find the daiquiri I was craving. Which was actually a bust. They only had flavored ones. Catering to the kiddies. Which was a bummer, but I drank the strawberry like a champ.

The crowds settled in and so did the clouds so we headed back to call it a night...

Well we might have made one more stop, when we ate at Swine Bar earlier in the week we were too full for dessert and that just wouldn't do when you had choices like this:
Peanut butter chocolate pie and a bourbon pecan. The peanut butter chocolate was good, but I could have eaten an entire bourbon pecan myself. It was outrageously good.

So bellies full and buzz wearing off it was time to grab some sleep before the early wake up. And it would have worked out perfectly except there was some sort of dance going on and our hotel floor was invaded by college students. Very drunk college students. 

We got to hear them shouting at each other as they came back from the dance and got dressed to go out to party. We got a few hours of sleep but then they came back from round two. We got to hear a very unfortunate try at sex. Seriously, it was painful to hear from our side of the wall, son, son, son, when you get that drunk just give up and try again tomorrow. We got to hear about how they snuck in to and then were kicked out of the Jacuzzi. I kept reminding myself that we were all young and dumb at one point in our lives but this is why I don't carry a gun...but finally they all passed out and we got another hour or so of sleep before the alarm went off and we headed for the airport.

Sore feet, a few extra pounds, but a great trip. 

Go. Eat. Listen to the music which is everywhere! Have fun.

But do pack comfortable shoes and pants with a touch of extra room.

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