Things I learned on my trip to New Orleans over the New Year holiday:
|This looks just like the eggs benedict dish I had with alligator sausage buried in it. The non-reptile-meat part was good.|
The French Quarter is a national park. We walked through it every day, and it was a nice place to get to know. I never realized how historical New Orleans was. The FQ is the oldest part of the city, with a rich and diverse history, and the many old houses were colorful and interesting.
|Quaint old houses of the French Quarter.|
There's a big iconic cathedral there that I'd never even known about.
|Cathedral in New Orleans? Who knew?|
Although Bourbon Street has a reputation for being a cesspool of drunken bead-throwing revelers, that's only one stretch of it-- the rest of it is just an old residential neighborhood. Today much of it is a quiet gayborhood with rainbow flags.
|Hosing off Bourbon Street after New Year's Eve. (Notice tiny rainbow flag in the distance above stop sign.)|
The FQ has plenty of street performers, art, museums, neighborhood bars, music clubs, and local cafes, but that's mixed in with the touristy stuff like t-shirt shops, chain restaurants & bars, strip clubs, drunk frat boys on Bourbon Street, and all the college football fans (in Louisville red and Florida blue/orange) in town for the Sugar Bowl.
|Street performers in French Quarter, literally in the middle of the street.|
A beignet is a deep-fried piece of heaven drenched in powdered sugar. On three separate occasions we got beignets and hot chocolate. One day that was our entire lunch.
|The bag they came in would have three solid inches of powdered sugar in the bottom of it, even after we were done eating.|
Our tour guide for the Haunted Tour of the French Quarter actually took (or pretended to) her subject seriously. I thought it would just be a tour of ghost legends, combined with interesting historical/architectural facts, but from the outset she asked if there were any "skeptics" in the group. Oh, I thought, so it's going to be that kind of tour. She talked about lots of "documented cases" of ghosts and told us about each ghost's quirks and personalities. She told us about how other tour groups regularly see ghosts during the tour. She used the power of suggestion so often that the annoying drunk woman in the Florida Gators jersey was convinced she'd seen a ghost at every stop.
|The "haunted" French Quarter at night|
New Orleans doesn't want us to eat dinner. Our first night, we planned to eat at this place on Bourbon St. we had a gift certificate to. When we walked by it late that afternoon, a sign said they would be closed til 8:00 pm for a private event. We decided not to wait that long and went to another place around 7:00, but it was swarming with people and there was a 1.5- to 2-hour wait. So we decided to go back to the other place at 8:00, and had some beignets to tide us over. When we got to the other place , it was 7:45, but it was completely full and there was a 1- to 1.5-hour wait. WTF? They said they wouldn't re-open til 8:00, and at 7:45 it was already full with a one-hour wait? Again, WTF? So we went to this dingy bar instead where I got a gut-bomb called a Muffuletta.
|Meat stuffed inside of meat layered under more meat. With a wet olive salad to make the bun all soggy. I should have stopped with the beignet.|
On New Year's Eve we thought we were smart and made dinner reservations, but we needed a cab to take us to the restaurant, which was not within walking distance. An hour before our reservation we called a cab company, but couldn't get through. We called five different cab companies, but all of them were busy. (Seriously, who still uses a busy signal?) When we finally got a hold of one, they said it would be a 2-hour wait. WTF? New Orleans clearly doesn't want us to have dinner! (Eventually we got hold of a cab company and they conveniently had someone in our area, and he got us to the restaurant on time. Still, we were pretty panicky for a while.)
The crowd at Jackson Square on New Year's Eve was ridiculously dense. The whole French Quarter in general was thick with people, and I learned to practice what I called "defensive walking" to get around everyone. It's like defensive driving, but on foot.
|The throng at Jackson Square|
|What we looked like to all the drunk people|
New Orleans doesn't want us to go to the Garden District. Two days in a row we tried to take the streetcar there. The first day we waited for an hour before we found out that due to rail maintenance, the streetcar wasn't running, buses were instead. Despite this, three buses drove by us while we were waiting at the streetcar stop. The second day we tried to take the bus, but it was raining and it took too long so we sat in a cafe instead. Then we saw the bus drive by. By then we decided to give up on seeing the Garden District.
Many of the shops in the French Quarter had signs telling people what they couldn't do. No bathrooms! No sitting! No loitering! Maybe this was a result of all the drunk tourists they deal with every day.
|No dogs allowed! Or something like that.|
The fleur de lis, the icon of New Orleans, is everywhere. It was in the tourist shops, on their candy, on top of the Christmas tree, and it was even the thing that dropped at midnight on NYE. Then we watched fireworks over the river.
|The fleur de lis hanging from a tree on NYE.|
|Yes, I'm posting a picture of fireworks on my blog. It's better than the guy next to me who was recording them on his video camera. Who are you going to show that to? "Hey, wanna watch a crappy, shaky recording of fireworks on my TV?"|