Written Sunday, December 27 – New Orleans, LA
We woke up this morning bright and early, and headed out for one last breakfast. The first thing I noticed was that everyone was dressed quite differently – instead of flowery beach wear or white sheer shirts and dresses, people had much more workaday clothing and sweaters on as they ate eggs and oatmeal. When you disembark, you can either opt to put out your luggage early in the morning or before you sleep with colored tags, or you can disembark any time in the morning as long as you can carry all your bags. (This option is called “Easy Walk-off Disembarkation,” I kid you not.) I used to be one of those people who packed gigantic bags that I could fit in. Now that I’m a seasoned traveler, I have a lot more scorn if you couldn’t fit everything you need into a carry-on bag. After all, Steve and I have gone for week-long, month-long, and even year-long vacations using just a carry on! All right, I’m getting down from the soapbox.
We emerged into the humidity and heat that is New Orleans after a short disembarkation, and walked off to our hotel near the French Quarter. Our room wasn’t anywhere near ready, of course, at 9 am, so instead, we simply put our luggage away and set off to explore the French Quarter. Our first real stop was the St. Louis Cathedral, which is a prime landmark. It’s a beautiful cathedral, initially built by the Spanish and carried on by the French, and the seat of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It’s the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the US, and we didn’t end up walking around very much because there was a mass and then a christening in progress. I took a few pictures, and we milled about Jackson Square checking out the flowers and the crowds. We had only been drifting around for about half an hour before we ran into two of the same couples we had enjoyed dinner with last night. We knew one pair was going to hang out in New Orleans for a few days, but the other pair had a flight around 9 pm, so we ended up hanging out for the rest of the day.
The six of us took the St. Charles streetcar west toward the Garden District. This part of New Orleans is really pretty. As a city, it’s well planned out, in strict blocks parallel to the Mississippi River. The Garden District is so known for its beautiful and well-decorated houses and grounds. On St. Charles Avenue itself, there are some truly grand houses that resemble triple-layer cakes, dripping with icing and glitz. Most of them were also still decorated for the Christmas holiday, wreaths on every window and festooned with red ribbon. We saw a whole sleigh and plastic reindeer in one front yard, several nutcrackers along a balcony, and even a large blow-up Santa. We walked south to Lafayette Cemetery, which is a historic cemetery in the Garden District. I think mostly because of how swampy the ground is or how old everything is, most tombs are built aboveground in little crypts. They are beautifully built with marble or stone, and the oldest ones have grass and flowers growing on them because of the extreme year-round humidity. Many people were strolling around, some in their Sunday best. We saw even more houses, and speculated on what kind of plants they were growing (for those of us interested in plants) or how much they paid in taxes (me and all the other adults). Most of these houses were very lovely, but too grand. To me, they’re like cakes that look nicer than they actually taste.
Steve had been texting with me, and asked if hanging out with a group of Chinese parents meant that we would only eat at Asian restaurants. The answer is yes. We ended up walking south to Magazine Street and finding a Chinese restaurant (Golden Dragon). The dishes were actually quite serviceable, and we lingered a good long time, talking about this and that and family and kids. Finally, we walked back north and ended up taking the St. Charles streetcar even further west to Audubon Park where Tulane and Loyola Universities are located. We got a truly impressive amount of steps in before we came back to wait for the streetcar to bring us back. And waited. And waited. We were there for half an hour before three streetcars came by, and only the last one stopped for us. By this time, we were all exhausted by walking around, and couldn’t stop yawning. We parted with last goodbyes when we got back to the city, and my mom and I went straight up to our room. LaQuinta ended up giving us an amazing suite on the tenth floor, with a large bedroom and city view, and a large living room with its own couch, and room-width desk. We’re probably just going to use half the space, but it’s kind of exciting to be in the biggest hotel room I’ve ever seen.
We felt ready to call it a day, but I insisted on trying to go out for supper. My mom and I tried catfish and shrimp ‘po-boys (respectively) at a nearby restaurant, which ended up being pretty good. By the end of dinner, my mom felt a bit more lively, so we went for a longer walk around the French Quarter. We found our way onto the infamous Bourbon Street, which has truly earned its name as the debauchery capital. Even between Christmas and New Years, not in Mardi Gras season, the weekend evening means that everyone was out. Bourbon Street is primarily a pedestrian mall after a certain hour of the evening, and even at 9 pm, it was packed full of people. There were people who were certainly there to get blasted and make bad life decisions, such as buying t-shirts that said “Drunk 1” and “Drunk 2” so you can walk down the street with your friends, thanks to large to-go margaritas for $5 a cup. Open-container laws are simply not even considered in the French Quarter. We saw two policemen on horseback who were wading their way slowly through the crowd, posing for occasional photos. Nearly every bar had a band with live music inside, and offered free cover with the purchase of a drink. We walked on for blocks, and if I winced a few times at the garish signs and overt innuendos on restaurant signs or in drink names, it was nothing to the families that walked by with children as young as eight or nine, wide-eyed. I just don’t think I’d ever bring my family here! On our way back, we stopped by Café Beignet, one of those standbys that had a lovely beignet – a square donut-like confection sprinkled over with powdered sugar. It was good to try some New Orleans essentials on our first day!