New Orleans in a Nutshell—-
New Orleans has been on our bucket list for a long time. So, we chose this 4 day weekend to take the leap. 10 hrs. later and 17 chapters of a juicy audio book and here we are. We are staying at the Cornstalk Fence Hotel http://www.cornstalkhotel.com . An architectural delight built in 1805. It is right off of the World famous Bourbon Street. It is in an artsy area with intimidating antique shops, and vintage establishments with expensive trinkets collected from Creole high society.
Our room- is a dressed up like an ornate Christmas package, complete with Scarlett O’Hara tapestry curtains, screaming to be repurposed into a ball gown. Flanking the floor to ceiling windows is fabric wallpaper with French gold patterns that matches the gold ceiling. Over the high perched bed (that required yours truly to make a running leap into) lies a chandelier, with baby cupids spinning around in dizzying playfulness.
What makes this unique hotel famous and a hot spot for the horse and carriage tour guide trail- is the one of a kind cast iron fence, with steely corn cobs placed within the body of a fence. There is a cute (mostly fictionalized) tale regarding the fence. The legend goes like this: A captain moves he and his wife from Iowa to New Orleans. To ease her homesickness, he had this fence specially made for her. It makes for a sappy story that has over the years been good fodder for naïve tourists.
On an interesting side note, the husband was here back in his heyday- a few decades back. Other than the cost exponentially increasing 10 fold, and an exorbitant daily parking fee of $35- he claims not too much has changed.
We arrived on a crisp, sunny afternoon-Thanksgiving- well rested and ready to explore this Cajun playground. The city was just kicking into second gear, families out in droves, escaping the confines of annoying relatives and waking from the carb coma of food overload.
We made our way to The Red Fish Grill http://www.redfishgrill.com smack in the pulsing madness of the French Quarter. We had made reservations, which was wise as it was hopping. A cornucopia of a buffet awaited us. Oysters and shrimp spilled out over ice, pretty as a still life (completely wasted on this vegetarian). A tantalizing salad bar satisfied me as well as some very interesting side dishes including creamy grits in which New Orleans is so famous for.
A small oversight such as thinking drinks were included (2 splendid Bloody Mary’s, a wine and 2 coffees later) brought this meal up to half of a car payment. Proving to be one of the highest priced meals I have ever had.
We luxuriated in our sloth for some time, digesting the mammoth meal of miscellaneous magnificence. After dinner, we stumbled out onto the active Bourbon Street, making our way to Canal Street- the main thoroughfare. It appeared to me everyone was waiting for a bus, which was odd. It was at this point that a loud trumpet sounded, followed by sirens and some marching men in uniform. We found ourselves front and center in a parade!
For the next hour or so, we jiggled, shook, ducked and swayed to the rowdy sounds of high school bands, baton throwing and hearty bead tossing. It was a pleasurable surprise and the jiggling and shaking may have burned off a forkful or two. Ha!
After the parade, we walked around, window shopped, leapfrogging our way through the rambunctious crowd. We eventually made our way back to the hotel. Remaining on Eastern Standard Time, we called it an early night.
This morning we awoke bright and early after a fitful, uneasy sleep. Did I mention this hotel is haunted???? I dreamt of the captain (remember the corn cob fellow) all night, only after I was abruptly awoken by the husband snapping his camera away-in the dark, trying to capture ghost activity. That was really reassuring and paved the way for an evening full of tossing, turning and praying.
We made our way down Royal Street in search of food. We dined at Café Beignet http://www.cafebeignet.com on hot filling omelets and powdery, sweet beignets. If you are not familiar with these tasty, deep fried balls of yumminess-you are not alone-either was I. They are similar to funnel cake and I believe they have the power to make everyone insanely happy, possibly even euphoric. I would be tempted to say if everyone ate these daily- the world would be a better place. Cholesterol levels, glucose values and obesity may be an issue-but we would all be happy- with our ever increasing obscene BMI levels. Just a suggestion…. I know it had me whistling and singing sweet lullabies.
After a breakfast of deliciousness, we hopped in a cab to the garden district. We had booked a tour through http://www.strangetruetours.com/ . Our tour guide Grey Sweeney, a one-time lawyer, who now conducts tours, met us at Starbucks. Trailing alongside her was her child and husband.
With the sun warming up the cool air, we set foot in the beautiful garden district. Just 3 miles outside of Bourbon Street, it was a world away from the hustle bustle chaos of the French Quarter. She wove lively stories with interesting architectural factual tidbits. We clomped our way on the uneven payment, gawking and peering into the fascinating homes and gardens of New Orleans rich and famous.
The tour ended in of all places -a cemetery; poking our way through, in a semi morbid fashion, tiptoeing amongst the resting souls. The tour was chuck full of fascinating tidbits and was well worth the 90 minutes.
After the tour, we rested our feet (the walking tour was roughly 2 miles of walking). Grabbed some coffee at Starbucks and just leisured in the thought of “nowhere to go and none to see”. With hunger sneaking in, we stopped in the Irish neighborhood and pulled up a barstool at Tracey’s http://traceysnola.com/ . It’s a divey, neighborhood bar complete with cigarette grime, loud cursing and hosting an eclectic assembly of characters. The football game was well under way, an enthusiastic gathering was emerging. We had some cold cider on tap, a shrimp po boy for the hubs and a sad grilled cheese sandwich for me. Hot, greasy fries redeemed the skimpy sandwich. We waited a ridiculous 35 minutes for this essentially unmemorable meal. But, going with the theme of nowhere to go- and no one to see- it was not a problem.
From there, we had a pretty long walk to our next destination. We walked a good 2 miles and reached the National World War II museum http://nationalww2museum.org/ . We made our way through the very sobering display of World War II history. Personal accounts, well made videos, and memorabilia created a complete experience. We stayed there until we literally closed the place down. I could have stayed there several more hours as it was full of so many facts and interesting information.
After the museum, we walked around town, making our way back to Bourbon Street. It was Friday night and the city was electric with excitement. By this time, my feet were aching, my brain exhausted and I was fully fatigued. The bars were hopping with people just getting started. Music and energy spilled out from the restaurants.
We found our way to a grease pit called The Grill http://thegrill.com/ . A throwback of a 50’s joint, with barstools and a counter was the perfect epicurean ending for a day of over indulgence and gluttony! Our lively waiter gave us individualized, friendly service. A hot plate of greasy fare, finger lickin’ good- I might add- hit the spot. It was economical, popular and we may certainly frequent this spot again.
Full, exhausted and completely content we made our way back to the hotel. Currently, there are screaming drunks 5 feet from our window. I am certain the “Captain” will visit me again this evening-but were on vacation- so I will go with it.
Tune in for more tales and tribulations as we make our way through NOLA.
Day 3/Final day in New Orleans
This morning I awoke by the sounds of drunken revelers at 630 am- followed by the loud dinging of the train, and lastly by a ship’s nasally horn. With all the gusto my carb overloaded body could muster, we ventured out. We found ourselves along the sludgey banks of the Mississippi River. It was warming up and the sun was intensely bright.
Tourists-the diehards like us-were conquering the streets of New Orleans before the swarms of people came in. Like a pilgrimage to a shrine, we found ourselves outside the Famous Café du Monde http://www.cafedumonde.com/ for more deep fried balls of doughiness smothered in a powdery sugary crack.
The place was packed with young, old, and every ethnic persuasion. Keep in mind-it was only 830 in the morning! We found a lonely table in the back, sprinting as if our very dear lives depended on it; we slid in the seats, proud of our stealth like take-over. The menu is simple. Beignets. Coffee, or Juice. And, did I mention Beignets?
A friendly waiter in a 1950’s white paper hat greeted us with lack luster enthusiasm, took our order and marched off to the precisional assembly line of coffee, juice, beignets. Keep in mind- if you ever come here, have cash. Shout out to my neighbor Marlene, or we would have been frantically running to an ATM.
Within minutes, our tray arrived. Now- tackling a beignet is challenging. To do this in a lady like way, but getting the most out of your powdered sugar consumption is complicated. One has to proceed carefully-because if you are too eager, powder sugar inhalation can ruin the whole experience.
After going to Café Beignet yesterday and experiencing their beignets, I can now properly have an opinion. Both are absolutely delicious and special in their own way. But, they are quite different. So, with my expertise I will give you a bit of my insight.
Café Beignet’s beignets are more solid, dense and square in shape. They are less generous with the powdered sugar but do give more than an ample amount. Also the orange juice and coffee were much better. On the other hand, Café du Monde’s are lighter, airier, crisp and similar to an Italian Zepoli. Price wise they were also cheaper..
So, there you go—the Beignet debate. You have all the facts, now.
After “breakfast”, we waddled over to St Louis 1 cemetery http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/ . It is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, dating back to the 1700’s. The graves are all above ground and have seen better days. We were greeted by an energetic fellow selling lemonade for $2. Because, I don’t know about you all-but when venturing through a cemetery, I usually need a cool drink to help me soak in the experience. Apparently- an interesting tidbit, Nicholas Cage has his tomb waiting here for him (pre- bankruptcy).
We weaved in out of the crumbling tombstones, making up our own stories- taking a deep sigh of gratitude before we moved on to our next activity.
We made our way through the growing masses of crowds to Jackson Square http://www.experienceneworleans.com/jackson-square.html . This lively square is a meeting ground of sorts, attracting local artists, tarot card readers, and amateur musicians. We plopped on a bench, resting our feet and lazily took it all in. We stayed like this for a while, replaying our theme “nowhere to go, no one to see.”
We stayed in this fashion until the church bells rang, reminding us- time to feed the belly. We walked along Royal Avenue passing musicians, freaky spectacles swallowing swords, and other bizarre characters, all with the subtle hint of a tip hat.
We made our way to Fleur de lis cafe http://nolalovescoffee.com/cafe-fleur-de-lis/ . It was crowded with a youthful gathering; the restaurant faced the activity of the street, prime for people watching. We got hot, hearty omelets. The meal was affordable, filling and the service was great.
After lunch we stopped at a praline shop picking up some sweet delights for coworkers eventually making our way back to the room. We sat outside on the comfortable veranda of the hotel, watching horse drawn wagon tours stop and tell their varied versions of the lore of the Cornstalk Fence hotel-each excursion having a different account. We sat out there for a while, letting the world spin on by.
We made our way back in the room, settling down for some good football followed by well-deserved rest -except this was interrupted quite periodically by various less than mediocre singers, stuck in a continuous loop. It was a shoddy combination of American Idol and Groundhog Day as it cycled over and over again.
After our substandard rest, we made our way out to the artsy and eccentric Decator Street and Frenchmen Street. This area- very close to the hotel was full of dreadlock wearing ladies that apparently preferred not to bathe, a bounty of bong shops and a plethora of bars showing off their talent for the evening. In the pungent air of petuli, body odor and incents pounded notes of jazz, rock, piano, acoustic guitar and various other forms of vocal entertainment. We wandered around, curious what lies around the next corner.
After our hour of exploration, we dined at Maximo’s http://maximosgrill.com/ -an elegant Italian restaurant. This dining choice was recommended by our hotel. Greeting us as we entered the inviting establishment was an open kitchen with fragrant smells of garlic. I had a creamy, lush butternut squash soup, while Frank enjoyed a bowl of mussels in a wine sauce. My next course was a very filling vegetable risotto, full of fresh vegetables and incredibly tasty. Frank had meatballs and spaghetti that had a unique Cajun flavor to it that kept him guessing through the whole meal. The service was good, the prices were appropriate and all in all a good ending to a great trip.
After dinner, we continued to wind our way around the same area. The crowd was a bit feistier, the homeless a bit more aggressive and street traffic was inert. Full, tired, and watching our bank account dwindle (this is one expensive city) – we called it a night.
Well, some welcoming surprises for me with this one of a kind city:
1. Clean! And, I mean CLEAN. They wash the streets with soap and water daily. The streets actually gleam in the morning.
2. Like I said-expensive. I am used to European prices, but some of these costs were just downright unreasonable. And, don’t forget to include 9% tax on the already insane costs.
3. A major international tourist’s hotspot. I heard every language around me at all times. This is a good thing.
4. I didn’t get meet to many locals, but the ones I did meet were very accommodating. I understand why they call it “The Big Easy”, as time really stands still. It’s not like any other metropolitan city I have been to where this is always a mad rush and a feverish energy.
5. Noise pollution! Loud obnoxious music blasting out of vehicles unwelcomely. Please, people of New Orleans get a handle on this situation.
So, in summary-New Orleans is a great city. Come when it is cool as I can’t imagine being here in sweltering heat. Bring lots of cash, have an open schedule and bring some TUMS. Thanks for following our travels and hope to meet again in March as we travel to Milan, Italy.
Love and deep fried dough balls,
~B & F~