Monday, February 24, 2014

{TRAVEL} Better Late Than Never: New Orleans

I really failed on getting a New Orleans recap posted here, didn't I? It's just that once we got back from our trip we were both really busy with work, and then weeks had gone by and before I knew it we were going away for the weekend again and I realized that if I was ever going to post this trip I needed to do it NOW.

We left SFO on Thursday afternoon on a flight that was completely full of automobile executives heading to the largest tradeshow of the year. I think we might have been the only people on this direct flight who were actually going for vacation. After an uneventful flight - which is exactly the way I like it - we touched down in NOLA and were immediately whisked from the very long taxi line with a handful of other people into a large bus. We joked around about kidnapping, murder, and mayhem, but it all worked out in the end, arriving at the Dauphine Orleans around 7:45 p.m.

When booking a couple of months back, we had upgraded to a larger, nicer room for a not insignificant price, so I was kind of shocked when we were given a room at the back of the building that was small and lacked all of the charm this particular set of rooms was supposed to have. No exposed brick or beams in sight, this could have been any Courtyard Marriott room across the country. I called the front desk and we were told there was one other room available, at the front of the building on the street level. She said that it might be a bit noisy, which of course given that it was on the street, but it was beautiful and large and exactly what I had been hoping for. (The noise from the street wasn't too terrible - what WAS horrible was the constant banging of the loud wrought iron gate that was attached to our outer wall every time a guest slammed it closed. A simple sign asking folks NOT to slam the gate would likely go a long way to making stays in that room much more enjoyable.)

Once we settled in we texted our friends and met up after several years of having not seen each other. And then it was off to the races! Our first stop of the night was Pierre Maspero's on Royal for dinner, and then to Napoleon House for sazeracs. Sarah didn't do so well with the sazeracs since they're pretty high in alcohol - no worry, Alan finished it off for her. Next stop was Pat O'Brien's where we downed a number of hurricanes and beer. Things get a little fuzzy after the second one, but I do recall thinking that the women's restroom is located rather precariously up a flight of stairs as I made my way back down.

After Pat's we walked down to Bourbon and stepped inside Maison Bourbon, one of our favorite jazz bars in the French Quarter. You can pretty much always guarantee there will always be good music coming from this joint at the heart of Bourbon Street.

At this point, Tom & Sarah were pretty exhausted and several of us were drunk, so we decided to call it a night so that we weren't too wrecked the next day.


The next morning we woke up ... hungover. Of course. We had lunch reservations at Commander's Palace in the Garden District and I wasn't about to let a bit of a hangover squash those plans. We showered, dressed, and met up with T&S (only to find out that we had coincidentally pretty much dressed identically). We took a cab out to the restaurant and our cabbie basically lectured us the entire time about how expensive Commander's Palace is and how we could get better food elsewhere. Um, okay. Thanks, I guess? As always, the $0.25 martinis were fantastic, and the food was even better. I thought I had requested the glass room with a view of the oak, but we ended up in the main dining room which was just fine by me since it was so stunningly beautiful. Like always, the food was a revelation. Unfortunately, someone decided it was a great idea to bring a screaming baby with them so I was less than thrilled with that part of the ambiance. 

We tried to do a walking tour of the Garden District but it was FREEZING. And then it started raining so we hopped on a street car and made our way back to the hotel to digest our food and figure out what we were going to do next.

I'm pretty sure this is the day that we decided to do a walking tour of the French Quarter and to search for a hat for Tom and ended up getting caught in some ridiculously cold, wet weather. I had changed into my running shoes which about 10 minutes after leaving the hotel became obvious it was a bad decision when ice cold water dripped through the mesh on top and soaked my socks. Also, my jeans were a bit longer than was prudent for inclement weather and so the back of my legs were drenched with water soaking up my leg. I recall going back to the room and crawling under the covers for a nap.

You'll pretty much notice a running theme with this recap: food and booze. Later that night we made our way to the other side of the French Quarter for oysters at Acme Oyster House. What originally looked like a long wait for us was reduced to about 15 minutes when others thought they were going to have to wait too long and left. Next thing we knew we were sitting down to both raw and chargrilled oyster goodness, and then it was off to Fritzel's for some more live jazz.

One of the things I really, really, really hate about vacationing at the same time as a male-dominated conference is the complete and utter sexist bullshit that runs rampant at these times. The table next to us was filled with mostly white men over 45 and they were being pigs to the waitresses. The hostess wasn't having any of it, but these girls who work for tips were being touched, and had these guys leaning in real close to whisper to them, and just generally slimy old white guy behavior. I actually had a hard time enjoying the amazing music because it was so disconcerting to me how overtly obnoxious and inappropriate their behavior was. Alas, the girls made good tips and when you live on tips ... I guess things are different. We were all really tired and so we decided to call it an early night after Frizel's. 


On Saturday morning we woke up very early (garbage trucks, gates slamming) to get ready to head to Mardi Gras World. This is our third trip to New Orleans and we've never been able to make the sojourn work out. We were especially excited to do it this time because S is an artist and I really thought she'd get a kick out of how they put together the floats. We were really fortunate that we were visiting so close to Mardi Gras because a lot of what we saw was nearing completion. I really appreciated too that the establishment runs a shuttle and they picked us up at our hotel. (I thought I took a lot more pictures of the floats and whatnot, but I can't seem to find them on my phone. Hmmm.)

From there we hit up Mother's for our first po'boys of the trip. True story: I could eat a po'boy everyday and die a happy woman. So much tasty goodness. I went with the fried oyster variety, while Sarah got the shrimp, and Tom & Alan both got some Mother's Special that had ham, turkey, and maybe roast beef. I can't recall. I do know that was the wrong thing to order and our sammies were much better than theirs. 

I can't recall exactly what we did next, but I do believe it involved wandering around and drinking. I *think* we might have gone back to Pat O'Brien's. Rather, I know we did make another trip to Pat's but I can't recall if it was on Saturday or Sunday. At any rate, I know we ended up at Lafitte's again because I have the photographic evidence to prove it! We grabbed a table outside by the heat lamp, while Tom & Alan ran inside to grab us drinks. I told Alan to surprise me, and surprise me he did. He came back with a Jaegermeister for me (this is a good thing; I love Jaeger) and a giant, bright purple slushy for himself. In the 18 years we've been together, this might rank in the Top 10 Shocking Moments of Our Relationship. What was he thinking?! And Tom got one too!

After another nap, we made our way out to the Quarter for a quick pizza dinner and then met up with a ghost tour. First though, another hurricane - this time from an Irish bar whose name escapes me, located across the street from Preservation Hall. This was TASTY but STRONG. Oh my. I'm pretty sure this had all sorts of various rums, including a coconut flavor one. The tour was interesting and informative, not all all kitschy as you would expect some ghost tours to be. It seemed like other tours around us were getting that experience but our guy was more about history. After the tour we stopped in to a Zydeco bar for a song or two, and then found ourselves back at Maison Bourbon for more live music.


The next day we woke up bright and early for a carriage ride through the French Quarter and out to St. Louis Cemetery #1. Alan and I had done this before, but we wanted to do it again as it's a great way to see some of the streets that you wouldn't otherwise walk down. It was also really interesting to go early in the morning when the streets were empty. Bourbon Street is very strange looking in the light of day, the street swept clean, but bar signs proclaiming barely legal girls and World Famous Love Acts.

Later in the afternoon we gorged ourselves at The Court of Two Sisters, sitting outside in the courtyard. The setting was really beautiful, the service was excellent, and the food was pretty darn good. The eggs benedict - my favorite egg dish - was REALLY good.

One of the things that we did differently on this trip that we never do on any of our other vacations - they're usually go, go, go - was just hang out and chat with our friends. We walked around town and found ourselves just sitting in bars drinking. 

That night we went to dinner at a place called Coop's Place that was recommended by our carriage driver, who grew up in the Quarter. Somehow, we'd managed to never hear of this place, but if the line outside was any indication it's really well known by both locals and tourists alike. We had a great meal there; despite ordering wrong with the crawfish, Alan had his most favorite jambalaya ever, and that's saying something since we eat it a lot. We also made our way over to Preservation Hall for a live show, one of my favorite things to do while in Nola. We found out that unfortunately, my friend the white cat - she who sat on my lap in 2002, survived Hurricane Katrina, and then sat on my lap again in 2010 - finally passed away at 19. They've since adopted another white cat who had just eaten so wasn't inclined to come out with the masses. Speaking of the masses, we ran into more of the automotive show attendees here who were behaving less than stellar. Preservation Hall is devoted to the preservation of New Orleans jazz. You'd think the title would give it away. Alas, some of the men were screaming for the band to play Dave Brubeck and others. I likened it to a drunk guy at a bar screaming "Freebird!" It was pretty much the same type of behavior. The band leader was hilarious and kept chastising the group, so that was nice to see. 

We wrapped up our last night in New Orleans back to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and Alan and Tom were hitting the hurricanes and purple nurples hard. Unfortunately I had an allergic reaction to some cigarette smoke so I wasn't as fun and lively as I could have been. (Strange thing since we have friends that smoke and I'm around them all the time and I never have the same problems - that night however I was really struggling to just get air in my lungs.) Tom and Alan were so drunk on the way back that they were screaming Bon Jovi the whole way back to our hotel. I was worried at first that someone would take exception to their behavior, and then I realized where we were and that screaming Bon Jovi at the top of one's lungs is considered mild behavior in the French Quarter.


Monday morning the city was in a panic for the coming ice storm. While on Monday it was muggy and upper 50s, mid 60s, the next day was supposed to be 30 degrees. This is big deal weather down in New Orleans. We hit up Cafe du Monde for the last time, did some final shopping (pralines!), and saw Tom & Sarah off to the airport. We had many hours to kill before we had to leave for the airport, so we did some window shopping and ate lunch at Felix's Oyster Bar, across the street from Acme Oyster House (while good, I prefer Acme). We walked back through the quarter, and stopped in at Crescent City Brewhouse to get some beer that was actually brewed in town, and then made our way back to the hotel to catch a cab to the airport. 

Oh my, what a cabbie! He dropped f-bombs a few times, and had no problem being a sexist or a racist. I couldn't wait to get out of the cab! Strangely he didn't notice at all how uncomfortable we were. It was awkward. 

All in all, it was another great trip to New Orleans and I'm so glad we did it with friends. I'm looking forward to going back to the city one day for Jazz Fest so that I can see a different side of Nola. In the meantime, we're gearing up for our next trip - Alaska.

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Want more information on visition New Orleans? You can find the recap from our November 2011 trip at the following links: