Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New Orleans Recap - Day 1

Whenever we're traveling to the East Coast I like to book redeye flights because this way you don't lose a precious day of your vacation time sitting on an airplane. The downside of this approach, however, is that you're usually somewhat tired and worn out the first day of your trip. Despite the fatigue that can come with this plan, in the past we've had very productive days immediately following overnight travel, especially on our last trip to New Orleans and then again for Boston in 2007.

Before heading out for the airport I had seen on Twitter that traffic in the Bay Area was terrible. Two days before Thanksgiving and the roads were already jam-packed with holiday travelers. We had hoped that by traveling on a Tuesday night we'd get a jump on everyone else making their way to the airport, but local news stations were reporting that Monday and Tuesday were supposed to be the busiest days for SFO of the year. Craptastic.

Not wanting to be worried about whether or not we'd make it through security in time to board our plane, we left well ahead of when we would normally leave, making sure that we had plenty of time to drop off our car at Park & Fly and still get to the airport with sufficient time. You can probably guess where this is going.

We made it to Park & Fly at SFO in something like 20 minutes. There was hardly anyone on the road. We were at the airport HOURS before our flight. The TSA agent at security even remarked that we were very early for our flight. I have no idea where all that traffic The Twitters was talking about, but it wasn't on the Bay Bridge. I don't know where all the people were that were supposed to make it the busiest travel day of the holiday season at SFO, but they weren't there. I hate being at the airport so early, but I also hate running to catch a plane (had to do this in Denver) so all told it wasn't a terrible inconvenience.

The flight to Houston was great. I took an Ativan and was asleep before we reached cruising altitude. Alan woke me up for landing so that I wouldn't jump up and scream. At Houston our layover was quick and painless. We were in New Orleans by 8:30 a.m. CT and ready to roll.

For this trip I wanted to keep initial costs to a minimum because I knew we were going to spend a lot on food, drink & activities. Months before we left I started researching which hotels in the French Quarter were nice enough for our liking, but cheap enough that they wouldn't break the bank. On our last trip we stayed at Loft 523 in the Central Business District and LOVED our room, but the location left a lot to be desired, especially at night when you've been out eating, drinking, and carousing and you just want to go back to your room and crash. Midway through our trip we switched to the Maison Dupuy (it was during Mardi Gras and by the time we booked no hotel had a full week available). That hotel was terrible. Smack dab in the quarter but the room was awful and the ambiance couldn't make up for it.

I initially booked the Dauphine Orleans Hotel which has EXCELLENT reviews on TripAdvisor. The rate for an upgraded king room was pretty decent, and free breakfast was included. According to the reviews, the breakfast was varied and pretty decent. After our trip to Italy where we started every day with a good breakfast, we have vowed that is a major preference for us when traveling. The problem with the DO was the location - it's centrally located in the Quarter, but it's above Bourbon going toward Rampart and this time around we wanted to be closer to Jackson Square and Royal Street. When we were there last I remember seeing the signs for a hotel that is *right off* Jackson Square so I looked into prices directly on the hotel's website. A king room with a balcony was about $150 more total than the other room, but the location of the Place D'Armes is truly spectacular. I'm not sure there's a better located hotel in all of the Quarter (some will say the Omni Royal Orleans has a more coveted position, but I'm not sure). About a month before our trip I canceled the one reservation and booked a room there. I was a bit apprehensive because recent reviews for the place were so varied. It is definitely a hotel where your experience is largely defined by what room you find yourself in. 

We stopped in to our hotel hoping for early check in but no dice. Dropping our bags off with the porter, we decided to wander around the city, checking out the sites. Our first stop: Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory lattes.

From there we hit up the Louisiana State Museum to see a couple of exhibits at the Presbetyre and Cabildo, which is a good thing because they closed early that day and stayed closed until Saturday. The exhibits, including one on Katrina, were informative and well done. Given the fact that there were NO CROWDS when we were there, even though there were a lot of people milling around outside, I think a lot of people skip over these places in favor of some of the flashier tourist attractions that are available. I thought it was a good primer for people who want to know more about the history of the area and gain a better understanding of why New Orleans is the way it is and some of the peoples that have populated the region over time. It's also a beautiful set of buildings overlooking all the loveliness that is Jackson Square.

After the museums we went back to our hotel to see if we could check in then. No dice. We ventured forth.

Our next stop for a late lunch was Acme Oyster House. We went here on our first trip and had a really good time so we wanted to stop here again. We had to wait a couple of minutes with a couple of very interesting people, but eventually we were shown to a quiet table in the back of the restaurant. While it was more private back there, I think that also takes away some of the ambiance and hustle and bustle of the place. We got both raw and cooked oysters, as well as a crawfish dish that was different than how either of us imagined in. Since 2004, we've discovered our love of oysters and I'm sure that had something to do with our reaction to the meal at Acme this time around. Dollar for dollar (a comparison you'll hear me make probably several times over the course of this trip's recap), I'm not sure that what Acme serves up can at all compare to the fresh oysters we get out of Tomales Bay. The flavor of our oysters is briny and sweet and juicy. These had a very flat flavor that left a lot to be desired. I imagine the disaster in the Gulf has a lot to do with the quality of oysters that can be had now, but overall I wasn't blown away.

We went back to the hotel to see if we could check in as we were fading fast. It was HOT. While we weren't yet allowed to go to our room, we did drop off our sweaters and I changed out of my Uggs into flip flops I had packed at the last minute when I realized that the temps were going to be in the mid 70s most days that we were there. I am SO glad I made this addition because it made all the difference. Rather than trying to do anything else, at this point we decided to sit in Jackson Square for awhile and just rest. I may, or may not, have fallen asleep on a park bench.

After our nap, during which time I actually got sunburned, we were finally able to check in to our room! Hooray. The front desk attendant made a somewhat big deal by calling it the "Stairway to Heaven" a handful of times, so I figured we were in for a treat. From the TripAdvisor review photos, I knew which balcony I preferred, but I had no idea what the actual rooms looked like. The good news is that we got the room with that balcony! 

The bad news is it was weird. Very weird. I'll spare you the whole review (if you're interested later I'll link to my TripAdvisor review - it's pending approval), but suffice it to say there was a lot wrong with the room. That's not to say that we hated it, just that it made for a very interesting experience. First of all, the only way you can access the balcony from this room is by leaving your room and going through the window immediately outside your door. You better hope someone's inside or that you remembered to bring your keys, because you are not getting back in. The windows IN the room are painted shut so that also means there's absolutely no airflow in the room, making it smell pretty horrible - a mix between stale, cigarettes, and air freshener. Supposedly the rooms are non-smoking but I don't believe that for a minute. The air freshener smell was really bad on my allergies so a few times we left our door open so that the window outside could let some fresh air in. We were up a private staircase with no additional rooms so there wasn't the risk of anyone walking by, but it still felt very weird to have our door open when others could possibly hear our conversations. The linens on the bed had seen much better days (think scratchy 80s style comforter and bottom shelf sheets), and the wallpaper was peeling in areas. There were also water stains on the ceiling near the air conditioner which was LOUD. It turned on one night while I was trying to sleep and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

After resting up for awhile we made our way out for the night. Originally we had dinner reservations at Bayona but I ended up canceling them earlier in the day because we were just too tired to get our act together for a big production of a meal. After seeing the location, I am kind of sad because the restaurant is housed in a beautiful old creole building. The reviews are of course stellar and I'm sure it would have been a lovely meal. Instead we found ourselves at Pierre Maspero's, which has been there since the late 1700s. The meal was alright, but it was exactly right for our level of energy and it gave us an opportunity to regroup and settle in for an evening out in a relaxed atmosphere.

Across the street from Pierre's is Napoleon House, home of what we have dubbed the best Sazerac in the Quarter. I had two - they were delicious, reasonably priced, and they tasted great.

From there we made our way over to Preservation Hall, one of my favorite jazz venues in the area. When we were there last we ended up getting a seat and one of the house cats jumped up in my lap and stayed there for the entire set. I was in heaven. As we were going in I said something to Alan about hoping the cats were still alive and the man at the front said that two of the three were. Midway through the set "my" kitty sauntered in and jumped up on the lap of a woman sitting along the wall. Hooray! I was really starting to get into the groove and feel relaxed and happy. It helped that the music was excellent and the company was fabulous.

When we left Preservation Hall there was a second line parade with folks dressed up as Indians and Pirates and other assorted characters walking down the street. I'm sure they spent some time planning the outing but for us it was a spontaneous addition to what was shaping up to be a great night out on the town, and this added musical bonus was a great surprise.

Next we hit up Pat O'Brien's, home of the famous hurricane, and our first bar stop on our previous trip. We met up with my best friend Heather on that adventure and didn't leave Pat's until we were well and liquored up. This time Alan and I took a much different approach, opting for one hurricane each as we rested our feet a bit and sat by the fountain and heat lamps.

As we left Pat's we heard loud music coming from Bourbon Street. I figured we should at least check out the madness while we were out and about so we made our way over. Holy eff. I remember it being crazy. I remember it being loud. I didn't remember it being disgusting. No one was flashing their breasts for beads (that I saw) but a large majority of the woman that we walked past were dressed like hookers. I know this is what "party" outfits look like these days, but the saddest part was none of these woman were attractive or in a state of physical wellness that would encourage such attire. I guess maybe they don't see themselves as being repulsive, in which case ... good for them? High self-esteem and all that?

We finished our night off at the Maison Bourbon where we watched a traditional jazz band for two sets. When we walked in they were playing our first dance song, so of course I was smitten. And drunk by this point, so I was definitely feeling the love. The place wasn't packed, so we got a great seat, and had just a really enjoyable couple of hours there (I think?). The last song they played before we left was really upbeat and one that I've heard often enough on the New Orleans jazz station on Pandora, so I was grooving in my seat. The lead singer tried to get me to stand up and shake my groove thing but I was content enough to just dance in my seat.

A bit after midnight we made our way back to our hotel, happy and in good spirits. About twenty feet from the door to the building a couple of guys behind us threw their cup full of an unidentifiable liquid and it hit me square in the back. I was pissed. You also have to remember I was drunk. I wanted to kick their asses. I remember screaming, "seriously? SERIOUSLY?" and waving my arms at them like some sort of deranged banshee. They didn't respond, but they quit laughing. The worst part (aside from getting hit with a full cup of liquid, of course)? THEY WERE STAYING AT OUR HOTEL. For the remainder of the trip I kept side-eyeing the groups of young men trying to identify the perps and tell them off, but I was never entirely sure which ones were the offending party. Regardless of the overwhelming stench in our room, I hit the bed and quickly passed out for the night.

What a great first day in New Orleans!

1 comment:

  1. Audrey7:51 AM

    Great review! It makes me want to go back right now!

    Audrey (http://boonisagoodomen.blogspot.com/)


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