After getting past the debacle that was moving out of our apartment, we made it to New Orleans on time and hit a nice wall of humidity as soon as we stepped outside of the airport. The humidity does make for some comfortably warm nights, which is one of the things I miss from growing up in Maryland.
The first thing we did was get ourselves some po’ boys and gumbo from Parkway Bakery & Tavern. They have 2 sandwich sizes: 5-inch and 10-inch. The 10-inch is gigantic, so get a 5-inch unless you’re starving or want to save some for later.
After checking into our Airbnb, we went straight to the French Quarter. While our Airbnb was great and really well priced, it came at the cost of being a 10-minute drive from the French Quarter. One of the things that’s hard for me to drill into my head is the idea of paying extra for convenience. I’m such a deal-addict that I often push the cheaper option, even if it’s not the most convenient, and I’d say I regret it 3 out of 4 times. When I come back to NOLA, I will definitely find a place within walking distance of the action.
My only frame of reference for Bourbon Street is seeing footage of people shoulder-to-shoulder during Mardi Gras, so I had no idea how it’d be on a random Saturday night. It was actually pretty busy and we got a small taste of the Mardi Gras experience. We had a delicious dinner of alligator bites, crab cakes, and seafood Cajun pasta at Oceana Grill just as it started drizzling outside and we called it a night when it turned into a downpour. One nice part about having bad weather during our trip was being able to take a few pictures without a billion people in the background.
The next day was more walking around the French Quarter and its surrounding neighborhoods. We had beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde and walked around Jackson Square and along the Mississippi River. After lunch at a nice little spot called Cafe Amelie, we spent an hour or two at The Spotted Cat listening to a blues jazz band called The Swinging Gypsies. Aside from the food, finding a cool jazz bar was the main thing I wanted to do in New Orleans. I didn’t get into jazz until recently, so I’m not hard to impress, but I thought they were pretty good. For dinner, we grabbed a bunch of Cajun cooked shrimp and crawfish from a local seafood shop and took it back home to eat while catching up on the last two episodes of Westworld.
We did a little more sight-seeing on our third day, visiting St. Louis Cemetary and walking around City Park’s Sydney and Wanda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. The cemetary is interesting as almost all burials in the the city have been above ground since the mid 1800s due to the ground consistently being waterlogged, which tends to result in buried caskets making their way to the surface. This means that almost all the cemeteries in the city are large collections of ornate tombs.
We had a delicious lunch at a fancy place called Cochon and eventually had our final dinner back in the French Quarter at a popular restaurant called The Gumbo Shop. They’ve got a great selection of Cajun food and it’s all reasonably priced. They have plenty of sub-$15 options or you can go with the prix fixe choice for $27, which gets you an appetizer, a side, an entree, and a dessert.
We did a lot of wandering around the city and found ourselves in some of the, let’s say, less affluent areas a few times. It’s pretty amazing how much of the original city survived Katrina, but of course there’s plenty that was never built back up. We also heard a decent amount from locals about the gentrification that happened during the rebuild and still continues now. Politics aside, it’s a good reminder to be appreciative of the fact that I was able to quit my job to comfortably travel around the world for the next year or so.
On our last morning, we picked our rental car for the trip to Texas and made one last beignet stop at the Morning Call in City Park. We found a mom & pop breakfast place on our way out of the city and were greeted with some standard southern hospitality. From the time we walked in, we were engaged in discussion with the owner, his buddy, and another diner about California, NBA trades, and our time in the city. As we were leaving, the 70-something white male owner, who made it a point earlier to note that he was a Bernie supporter, was walking with us out of the restaurant and started talking about growing up in the south when “times were different.” We didn’t really know where the story was going, but he eventually told us about a time as a kid when he wanted a drink from the water fountain and there was a long line at the whites-only fountain – his dad told him to go drink from the colored fountain and, when he did, he was surprised that the water was normal water. He thought the water was going to be colored, like Kool-Aid or tea or something like that. After a few more “all people are equal” comments, we realized that he just wanted to share the moment when he realized that racism was ridiculous and somewhat apologize for the stereotypically racist Southern U.S., which we found endearing.
We very much enjoyed our time in Louisiana. All the creole/Cajun food has been great, the people have been super friendly, and New Orleans is one of the few places that I would personally describe as having “character.” I’ll definitely plan to get back out to Louisiana again.