Just got back from an amazing trip to New Orleans.
New Orleans is pretty damn awesome. Much of this tourist’s activities took place in The French Quarter, but we got further afield than that.
The French Quarter is beautiful. Old and interesting and full of music. The first place we went to was Bourbon street. It was a Tuesday evening so it was pretty slow, but by Thursday it was packed and by Friday we did our best to get past it quickly. It has the flavor of the Las Vegas Strip with a bit of Southern hospitality.
New Orleans is very proud of its ability to drink in the streets and the tourists are happy to oblige. Each bar has live music, and there are a lot of bars. As I walked on this one-lane street, I was enveloped in music from classic rock, to jazz to Cajun. We stopped at the Bayou Club and listened to some fun Zydeco which was on my list of to-dos while in NOLA.
Our first tour was a walking tour of the French Quarter focused on food.
The tour guide asked if there were any food issues. Not wanting to be “that vegetarian” or have people quietly complain about the vegetarian who wanted to go on a food tour of New Orleans, I kept quiet. I figured I could pick out what I couldn’t eat. Unfortunately, the very first item on the menu was the muffaletta. As Wikipedia says: A traditional-style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. The sandwich is sometimes heated to soften the provolone.
I still wasn’t going to say anything, but my friend, Tricia, spoke up for me and I got a veggie version of it. Sure, you think it wasn’t anywhere near what a real one was, but that sandwich was GOOD! Sandwiches are my jam and this sandwich was singing my song. (It was eaten too fast for a photo.)
I had my first macaroon, my first gelato, fell in love with a cocktail, a Pimm’s Cup, and had my first fried green tomato.
Right after this tour we went to Mardi Gras world, where they explain what Mardi Gras is and you can see them creating the floats as well as some of the floats from the year before. I learned a lot about Mardi Gras that I had absolutely no clue about! I thought it was a parade. A parade. But there are tons of parades throughout two weeks.
I have to confess that between tours and even on tours, we were eating beignets. Like, a lot of beignets. We held discussions on who had the best ones and what we liked or disliked about the offerings. The hands down winner in that is the Cafe Du Monde.
It’s an old, outdoor cafe that sells coffee, beignets, and a few other drinks. That’s it. And it’s always packed! We were in New Orleans for four full days and hit that place three times. And had beignets at at least three other places. Beignets are life. It’s that simple.
Our second full day was spent on exploring outside the city. We headed out past Lake Ponchatrain and into the swamps. There we boarded an air boat and toured the bayou. I was not prepared to fall in love with the swamp. It was beautiful and serene. If you had said that the swamp is a good place to go, I would have scoffed. But I love it now. I understand why people wandered in there and said, “Yep, it’s dangerous and rough, but I’m gonna live here.”
There were alligators, of course, and our captain had befriended a few we got to meet. There was Francois, Pee Wee, and Mikayla. Another little one showed itself, but he hadn’t met that one yet. This is Sylvia.
This is not zoomed in, by the way. Their proximity was alarming. But they are gorgeous creatures and I’m glad I got to make their acquaintance.
It was then on to the plantations. We visited Oak Alley, where many films have been made or showcased. It’s in the opening of Gone With the Wind and was the stand-in for Pointe du Lac, the home of Louis from Interview with a Vampire. So, you know I squeed myself.
The Laura Plantation was next and I am sad to say I didn’t take many pictures. That tour was a lot of fun. They have a great script, great flow, and it was a good story with a lot of family drama. What’s neat about this house, too, is that it is a Creole plantation as opposed to an American Plantation. American’s loved on the Ancient Greek architecture, connecting it to democracy. Whereas the Creole’s enjoyed color.
We enjoyed three tours the next day. The first was a bus tour of the city, showing us the different areas of interest outside the French Quarter. We enjoyed a stop at City Park, one of the biggest damn parks you’ll ever see. It was huge! This is where we had the other “great beignets.” There are two places that New Orleanians argue over who has the better beignet. This place, though, I will not name because we were not impressed, mainly because they do not come to you pre-dusted with powder sugar. Which wouldn’t be a huge deal except the humidity causes the sugar shakers to cake and clump. Too much work for us. So Cafe Du Monde is still the best.
We learned a lot about Katrina as we toured the levees that had broken along the lake and the Ninth Ward. Heartbreaking and nearly unbelievable what had happened to New Orleans and amazing to see how much they have bounced back.
The second tour was a brewery tour. Beer brewed in New Orleans is new, starting in 2008 by a career Navy veteran who came home to help his city out after Katrina. Since then, other microbreweries have popped up. I’ve never been into beer but this tour was fascinating! We started at a nanobrewery that is set up in the loading dock of an old warehouse. It’s called Courtyard Brewery.
When taking this photo, I am standing at the end of the dock, a small group of people next to me out of frame, so you can see how intimate it is. They are so small, this is the only place you can get their beer. Every day a food truck pulls up to the loading bay and now you’ve got beer and food. They sold both their beer and others, so there was a big selection that changes often. There is a nice record collection and while we were there, one of the customers, holding his toddler, put on a Zepplin record. I could totally see myself hanging here, learning about beer. It’s like hanging out in someone’s garage, just chillin’, except you have a better selection of beers. The bartender was very knowledgeable and happy to explain everything for a total and complete noob. This is the epitome of craft beer, because the owner will wake up one morning and just decide what he’ll brew that day. Very small batches, and they are all made up right behind the bar.
We got back in the shuttle and headed to the next size up brewery called Urban South.
They’ve only been open six months and their beers are sold in bars. While you are there, they have a canning machine. Which means if you like a particular beer, you can have it canned in a 32 oz can and enjoy it later or as you walk out the door. The owner gave us a tour, but first asked all the customers chillin’ on the picnic tables if they’d like to join in. Again, children were playing and they had board games stacked in a corner. Some days they’ll have a barbecue. Very cool atmosphere.
The third was at NOLA Brewing Company. The biggest of the three, it has a typical tap room with a barbecue stand inside. Beside it is the place they brew. Our tour guide gave the tour himself. He is really connected to the microbrew scene and really knows his stuff. This beer can be found in grocery stores and bars throughout many of the states and its the one that started it all in 2008. If you ever come to New Orleans, you should most definitely take this tour put on by Premium Tours. The tour guide was the owner of the company. He was great. And you got nearly full-size beers, at least two at each stop. I was very mellow and happy when we climbed in the shuttle to head back to the hotel.
Luckily, I was with an experienced lush (I’m giving you smirk and winky face, Tricia) and I was instructed to drink plenty of water while drinking the beer and so when our next tour was set, so was I. I did this one solo because someone chose to pack poor shoe choices and had to stay in the room resting her feet. So off I went to the Voodoo, Ghosts, and Vampires tour. Alone. In the dark.
It was an incredibly fun tour! It wasn’t cheesy or melodramatic. But he really sold the tales of the vampire Saint Germain, and of Zack and Addie, wherein Zack killed himself and in a note on his body told the police to go to his apartment and look in the oven. We got to see the table that is always set for the ghost in Muriel’s restaurant. And of course, we saw the house of Madame Lalaurie and the last place the Axeman murdered in New Orleans. There were other places and stories, of course, but those were the ones that got to me. And then I had to walk back to the hotel, alone, in the dark.
Our final evening in the Crescent City was spent on a steamboat, touring the Mississippi. The music and scenery was great, the food experience left a lot to be desired. Luckily, though, we had decided to hit Cafe Du Monde right after we got our tickets, so we weren’t all that hungry any way. But it was a lovely trip.
New Orleans is a really amazing city. Everywhere I looked in the French Quarter there were two things I saw the most: Saints flags and Rainbow flags. It’s a very gay-friendly city and they love their football. You wouldn’t think the two would go together, but NOLA makes it work. The humidity isn’t for the faint of heart, but I’d go back there at a moment’s notice.