We arrived in New Orleans on Friday, March 16th, as a belated birthday present to my apprentice traveler. While I’d only briefly visited the city years before, it clung to me like the swamp moss surrounding the Crescent City, the Big Easy, Nawlins.
In the airport’s hustle and bustle, we picked up an unexpected additional fare going in the complete opposite direction from us. The cab driver assured me it would cost no more than the airport’s $37 flat rate, so we settled in for an impromptu sightseeing tour as the other passengers were dropped off. Naturally, once they were dropped off, the fare agreement suddenly changed, that is, until he learned I would have none of that with a gentle “Sure, we’ll pay what you charge, but I’ll be contacting the cab company and the airport afterward.” His tune quickly changed.
Once we turned down one of the cross streets of Bourbon Street, my apprentice’s eyes finally lit up. Here was the New Orleans she was excited to see. Revelers wandering the streets with oddly shaped and oversized containers of a red drink, beads around their necks, hooting and hollering at partiers on the balconies for more beads. We checked into Hotel St Helene, just two blocks south of Bourbon Street, changed our clothes and headed out for dinner. The walk to supper took us out of the Quarter to the revamped warehouse district with the promise of fresh Louisiana oysters. Seaworthy delivered. We ordered two each of the Lousiana Gulf Coast selections (six in total), and I found a local IPA to try, the Wayward Owl Clean Slate IPA. The main course consisted of the Seaworthy Roll, a take on a crawfish po’boy, and a burger for my companion.
We walked the hearty meal off by heading back toward Bourbon Street. There we stopped for two frozen Hurricanes. My travel companion pointed to a fridge behind the counter where little sauce cups with lids held a red liquid and asked: “What are those?” I responded gleefully; those are jello shots! So, of course, we ordered them. We continued down Bourbon Street with our hurricanes in our hands and a buzz from the jello shots. Finally, sometime after midnight, we headed back to the hotel and crashed hard on a very, very comfortable bed.
Saturday; the day of 20,000 steps
Although we barely got five hours of sleep, we woke up ready to explore the old city. Fueled by the second most famous coffee brand of New Orleans, Community Coffee, we headed east. Jackson Square was just two blocks east of the hotel and home to St. Louis Cathedral. The square was alive with street performers and vendors peddling voodoo dolls and paintings of the city. We tried to go into the cathedral, but they started a private event, so we agreed to return. On the south-east side of the square is the world-famous Cafe Du Monde, but the line was already well out of the door and down the block, so we trudged on. We were heading in the direction of St. Roch Market, a 20-minute walk, when we stumbled across the French Market and outdoor bazaar. Tummies growling, we decided to get a “snack” before heading on to St Roch. The snack ended up being a gumbo for my companion and a gator burger for me. We then perused about half of the outdoor bazaar before making our way to St. Roch Market. I was a little disappointed at how small the market was, but we found a lovely spot in the back of the market, with a bar, to enjoy a couple of drinks. I had the bloody mary, exceptionally spicy (in a very delicious way) and garnished with green olives, pickled green beans, and okra. I decided to give okra another try and then was reminded I’m not too fond of it. I don’t mind it in gumbo, but by itself, it has a slimy aftertaste I can’t get over. My companion enjoyed an iced coffee drink or two, and then we headed on to our next stop.
Aart Accent Tattoos & Piercings “Yeah! It Hurts”
My companion researched this spot for a couple of permanent mementos of our trip. What we did not know was the cultural significance of this place. While waiting for our turn, we were informed that we were in the oldest tattoo shop in New Orleans AND the first tattoo shop opened by a black woman. An interesting tidbit from this article says, “When Gresham opened her shop, there were a total of five female tattoo artists in the U.S.”
Wow, just wow. So, when I sat down to get my ink, I asked the gentleman, “How long have you been working here?” and he responded wryly, “oh, only a short time… about 22 years”. I looked at him; there was no way he was old enough to have been here for 22 years. But he says Jacci is his mother, not by blood, but because she took care of him when he needed it most. So, not only was I getting ink in such a historic place, but her son was doing the work. I was blown away. We swapped stories, and I begged him to come to DC because my next piece has to be done in DC (because it’s an homage to my hometown, and it just wouldn’t be right to get it anywhere else), but I want him to do it. I told him he would always have a home in DC, as a kindred spirit. I also asked him, as a local;
“What is one thing you recommend we do?”
His first response was, listen to Jazz, and his second was “Get a Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle, but only get one.”
So, as we walked back to Bourbon Street, freshly inked, we decided first to drop off my camera bag (I’d taken no pictures with my camera, but a lot with my camera phone), and then come back out. Except instead of heading to Tropical Isle on Bourbon, we headed to the waterfront. But first, we had to eat. Our last meal was the “snack” at the French Market, and we had already clocked over 10,000 steps. I picked the Chartreuse House, just on the corner from our hotel, and an old haunt of Tennessee Williams. We ordered an obscene amount of food, including my travel companion’s first muffaletta, which was the size of her head (the second half of it made a great breakfast in the morning). After dropping the leftovers off at the hotel, we headed down to the waterfront to walk off the food. We admired the big paddlewheel steamboats with their loud horns and meandered along the waterfront until we got to The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, where we did some old-fashioned shopping. After we were done, we hit a vendor in the food court to get ourselves some Hurricanes to go (when in Rome) and headed back to our hotel. We decided to take a brief rest on some benches in front of the water when somehow I managed to puncture a hole in my styrofoam cup, still nearly full of Hurricane. We sat there while I “beer bonged” the cup for a little while, then figured out we could wrap the cup in one of our plastic bags so I didn’t drip it all over myself while we walked. As we made our way back, we stumbled across a Saint Patrick’s Day parade coming down Decatur street. So, of course, we stopped, danced, cheered, and got ourselves some beads (without any of that flashing you hear so much about.) Once again, we fell into bed after midnight and slept soundly for a whole five hours.
The Lord’s Day
I am not a religious person. However, I have respect for the beliefs of others, so as my Catholic traveling companion timidly asked me if I would be okay going to Mass at St Louis Cathedral, I said, of course! We arrived about 20 minutes before the 11 am Mass allowing me to take some pictures without being disrespectful. The service was beautiful, and my companion got a real treat as a retired archbishop gave the homily. After the ceremony, she spent some time in the gift shop, and I spent that time photographing the cathedral from Jackson Square.
We then made our way down to the waterfront for our own paddlewheel steamboat tour on the Creole Queen. We added the lunch buffet to the trip for an extra fee since we were going off a quarter of the muffuletta each. Oooo-e was the meal good. Jambalaya, Gumbo, Rice & Beans. We stuffed ourselves silly while listening to an excellent guide named Wendell regale us with stories about New Orleans and the Battle of New Orleans. Oh, and the Hurricanes at the bar were delicious. They add a little extra to the top. A thirty-minute ride down the Mississippi takes you to the Chalmette Battlefield, where you get off the boat and learn about the battle from a National Park Ranger. When the horn blows, everyone gets back on the boat to head back to port by the Spanish Plaza.
After the tour, we walked up Canal Street with the intent of visiting Lafayette Cemetery, just like I had years before. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was to find out the only way to tour the cemetery these days was with a guide and a fee. Although I do completely understand, Tourists and drunk ones don’t have much respect for the dead, which is the only way to keep the oldest cemetery in New Orleans protected. So, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a couple of hours and take a load off our throbbing feet. And… sadly… pack for our departure the next day.
Then it was time for one last jaunt on Bourbon Street. We started at Tropical Isle, to get our Hand Grenades, on the rocks, as I’d had enough of frozen-drink-brain-freeze. They were delicious and potent. When I looked up the ingredients after taking my first sip, I understood why our friend at Aart told us only to have one. Ingredients included gin and grain alcohol. But, not one to go down without a fight, I had two. It was a Sunday night, and Bourbon Street was still full of people in St Paddy’s day green and beads. We found a fun bar, apparently called Famous Door, where we posted up to enjoy a band and people watch. Sometime during the evening, a woman came in with a digital camera on a “selfie-stick,” followed by a guy with a video camera. She pretended to have fun, dancing around and whatnot, and then picked up a random Hand Grenade cup off a table as if it was hers and acted like she was drunk while recording. I’m guessing she’s one of those Instagram influencers, or whatever they call themselves. After about five minutes of this, they left. What a shame to pretend to enjoy life instead of actually enjoying it. Speaking of enjoying life, the bartender was selling something in a big novelty syringe, so my companion went to find out what it was. It was more jello shots, three in one syringe, so of course, she bought one, and we shared it. We then found ourselves at Reverend Zombie’s House of Voodoo, where warning signs told you that if you took pictures inside, your soul would be cursed. With trinkets in hand, I noticed above our heads was an original fence from the movie set of Interview with A Vampire, but getting my soul cursed was not worth the picture. Somehow, I was hungry again, so after a couple of miscues with closing restaurants, we found a carryout and got too much food for a reasonable price. Once again, well after midnight, we limped back to the hotel, scarfed down what we could of our food, and got another five hours of sleep.
Monday, Sad Day, Fly Back Home Day
Monday, we woke up intending to finally get ourselves some Cafe Du Monde and finish the second half of the French Market Bazaar. Surprisingly (maybe not?), the line for the cafe was again down the block, but this time we found the carryout counter and got two iced Au Lattes and beignets. While perusing the bazaar, I saw a booth where a man had set up his books and a tv playing his video of train hoppers. I was intrigued, so I began talking to him about his adventures. Brian Paul Brightdawn traveled with train hoppers and hobos and turned it into a documentary called “The CURE for the CRASH,” and later, a book titled “Book Safe Glacier – How The Rails Became My Rehab.” So, of course, I had to pick his brain about publishing, traveling, and anything else he wanted to share. I could have talked to him for hours, but we had a plane to catch. So I picked up the book and the DVD (my traveling companion insisted I put my wallet away, as this purchase was an investment she wanted to make), and we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our luggage.
On our way to the airport, I received a text from Southwest informing me that the first leg of our return trip, from New Orleans to Nashville, had been canceled due to what I would later find out were numerous tornados in Alabama and Tennessee. Understand that my rookie traveler and I had previously shared some hairy travel experiences, and I was starting to believe we might be cursed. But I kept a level head and followed the prompts to select a new itinerary. This one gave us a direct flight back home. Relieved that we’d seen such fortune, but still wary until we were actually on the plane, it was time for bloody marys at the airport bar. I kept checking our new itinerary and got the notice the plane was to be two hours delayed. With an attempt to stay positive, I reminded both of us, that would still get us back home two hours before our original flight plan.
Finally, after a quick nap near our gate, we boarded our plane and blissfully made it back home safely.
With so much left to explore of New Orleans, I’m eager to go back. Crawfish season is starting soon, but after that, it gets disgustingly hot and humid. So I may just have to wait until Fall.