Well now that the Super Bowl has been won by Kansas City (GO CHIEFS), we can all move on with our lives, and move onto the next party. This is Mardi Gras of course!
Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is February 25 this year. This is the Carnival celebration that starts after Three Kings Day and ends the day before Ash Wednesday. For us non-Christians, this day refers to eating rich, fatty foods before Lent fasting begins. No one throws a party like the Crescent City, and this bonanza of a holiday is the grandest boum of them all. No one throws a soiree like New Orleans.
Laissez les bon temps rouler…
New Orleans is one of the few places in the US that mentally transports you to a French colonized isle in the 1720s. Like, you expect Johnny Depp to come ambling up beside you on the cobblestone streets as Jack Sparrow. It’s got old world charm with flickering lanterns, gorgeous Creole style buildings with balconies, festoons in purple, gold and green, and street ragamuffins. Jackson Square, a plaza commemorating Battle of New Orleans victor, Andrew Jackson, overlooks the Mississippi on its south side, and is filled with painters and horse drawn carriages and the saccharine odor of fresh pralines.
I love cities in which you can just meander without having any set destination. St. Louis, Chartes, Royal, Decatur, you lose your sense of time when there’s so much to see along these streets.
Bourbon Street will be teeming with tourists and most will be in some sort of inebriation. To avoid embarrassment, don’t drink on an empty stomach. There are so many foods that this city is known for, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Don’t stuff yourself, save some room for the EtOH so grab a Po Boy. Po Boys are just textural wonders: soft dough combined with the crunch of fried shrimp and the crisp of lettuce bathed in the smooth creaminess of mayonnaise? New Orleans wins on this alone.
I chose the Omni because of its nearness, yet far-ness from Bourbon Street, but a pleasant surprise was the rooftop observation deck. Viewing the city from my perch high above was the perfect ending to my first day. You literally do not need a car if you plan on staying in the French Quarter, your time will be spent walking from bar to club and then back again. Just steer clear of the vomit/trashcans.
Back to the food. There are many well established eateries in the French Quarter: Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Brennan’s, where I chose to enjoy my petit dejeuner.
Brennan’s is my interior design wonderland. It is located in the cutest pink building, with green foliage accents throughout the dining room and patio. If I could have a house decked out in greens and pinks I would. I should have been an heiress, guess it’s not too late?
One of the older restaurants in town, their claim to fame is that Bananas Foster was invented there. And you just know any place that creates a flaming dessert has to be totally lit. I devoured the Creole classic, turtle soup, along with Eggs Hussarde. Turtle Soup is the best soup I’ve ever eaten, no joke. It’s salty, rich and provides you with more turtle power than any pizza slice could.
The morning is my favorite in this city, you get to see the French Quarter in a different light…the harsh light of day. Like its human counterparts, Bourbon street looks a little rough in the morning, and I love it.
As the workers diligently spray the vomit off the streets and the garbage trucks dispose of the many bins of alcoholic vessels, there’s something so peaceful and sobering about being there after you know so much debauchery had happened there just hours before.
After you’ve had enough of bleach cleaner smell, hop aboard the St. Charles streetcar. It’s the oldest streetcar line in the world and it literally has stops to everywhere you want to go. I bought a Jazzy day pass for $3, unlimited rides!
For a history lesson, Lafayette cemetery is one of the country’s most visited cemeteries. This is where you can catch Free Tours on Foot. If there are any free walking tours available in any city I visit, I try to seek them out. They are a great way to explore by actually getting on the street instead of a tourbus. This tour covered the famed Garden District of Victorian homes as well.
I love an old cemetery, especially ones with above ground family tombs. Learning about the different burial practices is especially interesting from a historical standpoint.
The tour also took us past Commander’s Palace, the famed New Orleans institution which sits right across from this landmark (also owned by Brennan family).
I really enjoyed walking through the Garden District neighborhoods and seeing the grand homes, especially the house that “Head like a Hole” bought. You go, Trent Reznor.
The boulevards in this city are wide and tree-lined and are ideal for an early afternoon stroll. Magazine Street is a trendy area with restaurants and boutiques, and slightly off the beaten path. Get a modernized version of a King Cake at Sucre, a local chain of confectionary delights. Let the streetcar take you along its entire line–marvel at the Audubon homes, see Mardi Gras buses pass, and then get a feel of the neighborhoods where real people live.
New Orleans is also home to the World War II museum. It’s modern, easy to follow, well designed with a lot of military aircraft and tanks. It’s a spectacular museum.
Just down the road is Cochon, New Orlean’s ode to everything Piggy. It is here where the saying you are what you eat came true, as I thoroughly enjoyed a “Le Pig Mac.” I became it, it became me. It’s basically a Big Mac made with pork sausage. It is as devastatingly good as you would imagine.
Of course, after eating it, I had to walk around for another few hours to escape the meat sweats, so Lafayette Square and the shops at Canal Place (both with convenient stops along the streetcar route) helped me with that goal.
Despite the pig shaped rock in my gut, I still made it a point to retreat to Napoleon House for a Pimm’s Cup, an English drink popularized there in the 1940s. The building is dark, broken in, and simply magnificent–it was supposed to be a refuge for the short emperor himself, but he died before he could get there. It’s a place where you feel like you’re Ernest Hemingway or Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or something. C’est pour les artistes et les amoureux. It’s a perfect perch to take in all the happenings around as well.
Before you leave, there is one must try. Cafe du Monde is home to the most famous beignets and chicory coffee in the world. This is one of those things that has exactly the right hype of it, they are perfect pillows of powdery goodness. MMMMMmmmmm.
It was there in that cafe, with the Vietnamese servers atwitter around me, watching the sunrise over St. Louis cathedral, that I realized that it would be so bad for me to live here. It would be real life Ms. Pacman, I’d look and act like her, all round and eating everything in sight and running amok with ghosts chasing her. This is literally the perfect metaphor for this town.
As I contemplated life and its intricacies while discovering the trinkets in the French Market, there was one last thing I had to check off my list: getting a muffaletta at Central Grocery.
Armed with this very fragrant sandwich filled with olive tapenade goodness, I ubered back to the airport, where the most New Orleans thing could have happened to me: I saw Lil’ Wayne. The absolute perfect cap to my stay in the Big Easy.
Souvenirs: pralines, King cakes, beads (you can buy them…), Mardi Gras paraphernalia
Notable food and drink: Creole food and any alcohol…literally any.
Famous entities: Smoothie King, Cash Money Records (takin over in the 99 for 2000)
Sports teams: Pelicans (NBA), Saints (NFL)