New Orleans is not usually the first place I think of going when I want to get away for a long weekend but the airfare was cheap and NOLA was a city that neither me nor my wife has ever to been to so why not? I am traditionally a pretty reserved person so the thought of cutting loose and getting hammered on Bourbon Street was probably not the experience I was going to have. Our goals for this trip were pretty simple: eat some Cajun food, hear some jazz, have a beignet, get out of the city a bit, and if we have time…tour a cemetery. Chances are that we wouldn’t get to everything but we’d at least give it a go!
After landing at Louis Armstrong International Airport, we made a beeline to our hotel just outside of the French Quarter to drop our bags off. Once that was done, we checked the maps and followed the hoards of tourists into the French Quarter. I normally don’t like to be in a group of “tourists ” but there are some notable exceptions to that. How can anyone go to New Orleans without going into the French Quarter right? So we did and we quickly discovered that this place a vibe all to its own. The people were friendly, uninhibited, and quite honestly a little weird. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact it gave the area a unique quality all its own. The best way that I can think to describe it is like Paris meets Las Vegas meets Miami meets the circus.
We were hungry from the days travel and found some fast food on Bourbon Street (it was pretty good too). While sitting in the open storefront, we could hear one of the neighborhood parades that are common in the city coming up towards us. The sound was similar what a high school band would sound like if it were on steroids. At the back end of the parade is where we got our first taste of the bead throwing tradition during Mardi Gras. However, the is not the part of Mardi Gras where you had to “earn” your beads, you merely just had to catch ’em!
After the sun went down, we hung around and waited for one of the Mardi Gras parades to begin. We waited for quite awhile during what was actually a pretty chilly night. While we were waiting we watched from a distance as a heavily enebriated woman fell and hit her head on Canal Street. Medics on bikes were on the scene quickly to help as she waved to everyone who passed by, oblivious to the scene she created. The parade eventually made its way past us and was mostly comprised of local high school bands, youth dance academies, and some floats representing various organizations. After the parade ended, it was back to the hotel for some sleep before heading out of the city the next day to have a wild day in a much different way.
The following morning was sunny but cool for our kayaking trip into the swamp. We signed up with Wild Louisiana Tours for two hours of paddling through the Bayou, an environment I knew almost nothing about. The trip took us through a maze of waterways as our guide pointed out local flora, fauna, and history. One notably absent member of the fauna community was the American Alligator as it was a bit too chilly for them during this time of the year (late winter). I wanted to see gators but then again maybe I didn’t ! Our primary complaint about the tour is that we wished it would have lasted longer since we enjoyed it so much.
After the kayaking was finished, we decided to drive to a plantation since we were already about half way there from New Orleans. My wife Kimberly has always talked about visiting a plantation and we time to visit only one of them. I had done a little research before we left and it seemed that the Oak Alley Plantation would be the best fit for us and our time crunch. Oak Alley was a sugar plantation back in the day and the house is very well preserved and uses guides dressed in period costumes to make the visit feel that much more authentic. But make no mistake, this plantation is most famous for its Live Oak lined pathway in the front part of the property. The trees have grown quite large and create a tunnel-like feel as you walk underneath them.
Unfortunately, we mistimed our arrival back in New Orleans and had to navigate the streets during another Mardi Gras parade. This turned into a huge problem, or adventure, depending on your perspective. Since I am typically a very impatient person, this was a problem. For my wife, it was an opportunity to view some other parts of the city. To kill some time, we decided to stop by the NOLA Brewing Company for a couple of beers and some food while we waited out the parade. The app on my phone said it was 10 minutes away so we decided to go. The problem was that every street we tried to turn on was blocked off by the parade. So we basically tried getting to the left at every intersection, only to be thwarted every time. Eventually, we found one street that we could turn onto, only to immediately come upon another roadblock. Eventually, a police offer gave us some great advice to go through a parking lot and wait there until the parade ended, which it did soon after we got there. It ended up taking two hours to get to the brewery and we were able to wait out the rest of the parade from there.
The next day was checkout day and we asked for a late checkout so that we could get in one more thing before the next round of parades started up. Kimberly has always wanted to see an above ground cemetery and closest one we could find within walking distance was the St. Louis Cemetery Number One. It was on the outskirts of the French Quarter and was in an area that looked a little bit run down, so use caution when walking around there. As it turned out, buried in this cemetery was the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who I actually knew nothing about but I do now. Perhaps just as interesting though is that actor Nicolas Cage has purchased a plot here. The plot has a pyramid on it already (very National Treasure-ish) and I must admit that it looks grossly out of place in the cemetery that dates back to the late 1700’s.
So then it was back to the hotel to get the car and then try to get out of the city before all of the roads get blocked. We decided to get out of the city altogether while killing time to catch our flight home. We ended up driving from New Orleans out towards Bay Saint Louis Mississippi only to be stopped again by another parade on the outskirts of the town. This forced us to head toward the gulf and through the small town of Waveland. From there we found a long pier and walked out to the end of it where we at least got some fresh air and exercise before heading back to the airport. We managed to avoid the city by taking the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain and made it there with just a little time to spare.
We did not get to see and do everything we wanted to but we did try beignets at Cafe Beignet, as Parisian a cafe as you could imagine and the beignets were delicious. So we missed out on the jazz clubs and Cajun food but we’ll cross that off the list next time. That’s right, we’ll be back, just not during Mardi Gras.