March 10, 2012

The Big Easy, Christmas Leave Part 2


There, I've admitted it! It's true! I am a slacker. Whew, I feel so much better getting that off my chest.

Now that you know the truth about me, you understand why in the month of March, I am finally posting about the second half of our Christmas leave. (If you don't remember what 'leave' is, or you want a refresher because it's been sooooo long since Part 1 of this post, check it out here: Speaking Civilian and Christmas Leave, Part 1)

All caught up now? Good.

After visiting with family for a bit in Dallas, the Hubs and I took advantage of our location and decided to drive 9 hours to the wonderful city of New Orleans. I've heard mixed reviews about the city. Some say it's just for party people and Mardi Gras. Others talk of the amazing food. Still others think the city is dirty, while some adore the unique atmosphere. We chose to make the decision for ourselves. A new adventure begins!

The Mississippi 

Of course, if you know me at all, you know vacation is not a simple thing. I need reams of data, maps, plans, and back-up plans. I like to be prepared (ahem, understatement of the century). Shockingly, I was not as well-planned as expected. While we had a list, as in a singular list, we left many things up to chance. New adventure indeed...

What we discovered is this: New Orleans is a colorful city, full of amazing people. The opportunities for an amateur photographer like myself are plentiful. Music and artwork take over every street corner, while the scent of Cajun food fills the air. The city's history is rich and unique. Museums and attractions abound. A simple walk through downtown is enough to overload the senses and leave you in a euphoric frame of mind.

Or maybe that's just me.

Regardless, we loved our visit there, and we can't wait to go back again. As much as we accomplished, there were many, many things that didn't fit into our schedule. If you have time for a visit, you won't run out of things to do, that's for sure!

One of the first attractions we decided to visit was Mardi Gras World. Inside an enormous warehouse, the crew diligently works to produce the floats that grace New Orleans' city streets during the annual festival. The tour begins with a brief video and explanation of Mardi Gras, then all guests are served slices of the traditional 'king cake'. King cake is baked with a small plastic baby inside of it. Whoever receives the baby in their slice of cake is required to host the next party... loving this fun idea, I might have to steal it for my next party!

The process of creating a float may seem boring to some, but this turned out to be one of our favorite afternoons. After a guided tour of the warehouse, guests are allowed to wander on their own. It was so much fun to see this year's floats before they made their debut in the parade! Check out the slideshow for a quick peak inside the magic at Mardi Gras World:

My second favorite place to visit was not a specific location. Downtown New Orleans, including the infamous Bourbon Street, was a real pleasure to wander around. The Hubs and I spent an entire day walking the streets, stopping anyplace that caught our fancy. We started the morning in a cafe that no one should miss, Cafe Du Monde. Famous for their coffee and beignets, this early breakfast kick-started a wonderful afternoon.

Can you say YUM?! 

Although it might not be for everyone, I was fascinated with the quaint buildings and architecture of downtown. The balconies, courtyards, and hidden doorways called out to me and my camera:

As we wandered the streets, artists and musicians clustered in the courtyards and on every street corner. Jazz music drifted on the air, seemingly from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Guitar cases were open, prepared to collect change and bills, as people gathered 'round. The Hubs and I stopped for every performance. The energy of the crowd and the lively music made stopping impossible to resist. Although this isn't a long clip, it can give you a taste of what the street music was like (and please excuse the quality of the picture, just listen to the music!):

Besides musicians, there were other street performers as well, like this gentleman here: 

With so many sights and sounds, we wandered for hours, completely losing track of time. UNTIL.... the Hubs' stomach rumbled. We all know what that means. Either the Hubs eats or there will be mutiny.

New Orleans cuisine was something greatly anticipated with us. We had a long list of items that were an absolute must. Shrimp Po'Boy, Crawfish Etouffee, Beignets (already consumed at Cafe Du Monde!), Gumbo, Jambalaya, and many, many more. The Big Easy is well-known for it's cajun flair, and we were eager to try everything.

Of course, we didn't eat all that in a single afternoon. Our New Orleans adventure spanned five fabulous days. We tried at least one new thing each day, a fun policy that has never failed us before on any vacation.

Among the many places we visited, the National World War II Museum was at the top of the list for the Hubs. We found the museum to be quite crowded, but the displays were interesting and the staff quite knowledgable. We especially appreciated one demonstration where several people took up positions as servicemen on an aircraft carrier, then acted out their duties. I love the hands-on approach; it kept us interested for sure. However, the best thing about the museum was one tiny detail from  the gift shop:

Seriously?? Thanks for the tip, as well.... remember folks, don't take grenades on your next flight!

The Hubs may have favored the museum, but my chosen activity was a little.... shall we say, different? For those of you out there who love a good scare, New Orleans is the place for you. Graveyard tours are offered everywhere, along with several ghost tours. For the adventurous, you can visit the grave of Marie Louveau, famous voodoo priestess, at the stroke of midnight. Or take a tour of the Voodoo Museum . Recently, New Orleans is the featured city in several vampire book series, including Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books (the inspiration for HBO's "True Blood").

But what I really loved were the graveyards themselves. Much of the city is below sea level, necessitating a need for above-ground burials. For me (and my camera), the graveyards were a place of savage beauty. We toured several over our stay, including Saint Louis Cemetery #1, reputedly the final resting place of Marie Louveau.

The darker side of New Orleans appeals to many, but if that's not your cup of tea, don't worry! There are many, many sites to see that don't involve voodoo or ghosts or vampires (although you may want to be tucked into bed after dark!).

Just a short drive from downtown is Longue Vue House and Gardens, a spectacular home and garden that offers daily tours. Our tour guide was not only knowledgable about the history of the house, but she also knew the family personally, and was able to provide many interesting insights. The tour was a nice diversion and break from the city life.

Longue Vue House and Gardens
Also outside the city, we took a fun tour of the New Orleans Rum Distillery. The rum is sold only locally, hence a smaller operation. We had a slightly difficult time finding the building, but it was worth the effort. Again, our guide was amazing. And the free shots of rum didn't hurt either! 

If you're in the area, I would also check out Laffitte's Blacksmith Shop, traditionally considered the oldest bar in the United States. Or the LaLaurie Mansion, reputed to be extremely haunted. Take an evening stroll through the Garden District, or visit the aquarium. On our next visit, we plan to enjoy a river cruise! 

With so much to see and do in New Orleans, we didn't even scratch the surface. On our last evening there, we took time to see the Celebration in the Oaks, an amazing display of Christmas lights. This is a seasonal attraction; we were so glad we didn't miss the opportunity! 

No matter what your interests, New Orleans has something to offer every visitor. We loved our mini-vacation to this great city. Someday, we'll be back and adding to our list of experiences. If you've never been, I hope our visit offers you some ideas. If you've visited the city before, I hope this post brought back good memories. Feel free to share your favorite places and the items that would make your must-see list.

For now, I'm trying my hardest to stop being a slacker. I promise. More coming soon to a blog near you!

1 comment:

  1. Allie, that was a fun post! Your photographs are amazing and give a good sense of the city. I enjoyed the music, too! Thanks for sharing your trip :) When we're on our trip, I'm looking forward to seeing the city...letting my belt out a couple knotches!