March 8, 2016 § 7 Comments
Outside of eating and drinking, New Orleans generally has two main attractions for tourists: swamps and plantations. For our trip, we opted not to do the latter, instead planning our first day around an afternoon spent at the swamp.
We went with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours, which cost $44 per person including a very comfy bus pickup from our hotel. The ride was about half an hour, and our bus driver kept us entertained with random facts about the city.
Our bus dropped us off in a gravel parking lot at the privately owned Manchac Swamp. To get visitors in the mood for reptiles, there was some strange gator paraphernalia inside the small shop where we picked up our tickets. We were 20 minutes early for our tour, so we hung out near the dock and tried to make friends with the handful of cats roving the property. There seems to be lots of cats roaming around New Orleans in general? We couldn’t tell if they were strays or pets.
The shop had a cafe window on its patio, but apparently the cafe is only open during the summer. In a separate building by the restrooms was a small room with a metal pool full of tiny baby alligators. They were SO CUTE!!! But I don’t know why they were indoors instead of in the swamp.
Once we finally got on the boat, we were treated to serene waters and the gravelly voice of Captain Allen as he steered us slowly around the bayou while sharing factoids about the environment. It was a lovely ride in perfect, sunny-but-not-too-hot weather.
The scenery was idyllic but didn’t seem particularly inhabitable. Capt. Allen said he lived way out in some other swamp elsewhere and would never want to live anywhere else. We saw lots of trees with pretty Spanish moss (named after Spaniards’ beards by the hairless native Americans, according to our captain).
March 4, 2016 § 7 Comments
Our cab driver from the airport told us that New Orleans allowed one casino — Harrah’s — within city borders under some euphemistic law that refers to the establishment as a place of “gaming.” Hah! We took a short stroll through it one night on our way to the riverwalk; it was actually quite nice inside.
Harrah’s and the adjacent Canal Street were still bustling with activity around midnight, but the riverwalk was deserted. The nearby mall was closed, the fountain wasn’t running, and there were barely even any lights to reflect on the water. So we just took a picture of ourselves and left.
Ah, yes. Bourbon Street is a requisite stop for tourists, though we were glad to leave it behind after a cursory walkthrough our first night. Fortunately, we just missed Mardi Gras the week before, plus it was a Wednesday, so it wasn’t as rowdy as it could’ve been. Seeing the mostly empty bars selling sugary slushed drinks like Hurricanes and the mostly middle-aged people stumbling around was not appealing in the least.
We took refuge at 21st Amendment, a cute bar just off Bourbon that served tasty shandies, among other things. The band playing that evening was The Royal St Windin’ Boys with Ms. Jenavieve Cook, and we liked them so much that Kaiti and I both bought CDs. I particularly enjoyed the clarinet :)
After that, we braved Bourbon again to check out Deja Vu Showgirls, a strip club that hosts drag shows on Tuesdays through Saturdays. It was my first time seeing drag, and I loved it! Most of the queens had incredibly lithe bodies and some unreal (literally, but still very sexy) hips. Case in point, this gorgeous lady:
Most of our entertainment, however, came from watching the couple across the stage from us. They were probably in their late 50s. The husband would NOT stop hitting on and trying to grope the hostess (also a drag queen), who did her best to fend him off while still flirting with/insulting him, all while the wife took pictures and cackled at her way-too-amorous companion. It made for a hilarious show.
On Friday evening, we ended up returning to Bourbon and found it much more packed, with a lot more young people. But there were still plenty of old people as well! Guess the partying lifestyle never ends in the Big Easy?
Our destination that night was Preservation Hall, an iconic venue that welcomes all ages and is BYOB. We stood in line outside for 45 minutes for the 10 p.m. show. Even though we were the second group in line, we only managed to snag the last row of seats because of all the people who bought “Big Shot” reserved seating online for $45 -_-
February 29, 2016 § 7 Comments
I think I’m addicted to bread pudding.
We ate it every night on this trip. It was so good every time! And so different from the mushy nonsense I had in San Francisco. But I’ll start at the beginning.
(I apologize that most of these photos were taking with my phone in dim restaurant lighting, so image quality isn’t great.)
Due to major flight delays on my end, Kaiti and I got in around the same time, so we had a late dinner while waiting for Lucy. We needed somewhere close to the hotel that was open past 10 p.m., so we decided on the Original Pierre Maspero’s right around the corner.
The seafood pistolettes (stuffed bread rolls) were the standout. Hot and creamy and delicious! The Crescent City sampler, which came with small bowls of gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffée served as a proper introduction to Louisiana Creole cuisine. The latter in particular was my favorite: creamy and flavorful without being too salty.
Holding back on the entrees meant more room saved for dessert, and this bread pudding did not disappoint! That’s a large dinner plate holding a serious hunk of bread. It was tasty and very dense, like carrot cake that had been made into French toast, though it wasn’t soaked all the way through so I wouldn’t give it a perfect 10/10. Either way, we didn’t manage to finish all of it and left stuffed.
We started our day with arguably the most well-known of them all: Cafe du Monde.
It was already pretty crowded by the time we arrived at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, but we found seating pretty quickly. (The line was out the door when we left later.) We were quickly introduced to the seemingly main demographic of New Orleans (or just New Orleans tourists): middle-aged white people, as far as the eye could see.
I wasn’t expecting much from the beignets, considering I don’t like donuts and generally don’t like deep-fried foods. Still, we ordered two servings and got to eat two beignets each.
Well, after tapping off 90 percent of the powdered sugar piled on top, I was irrevocably converted to a beignet lover at Cafe du Monde, solely because of how dense and chewy they were on the inside. Mmmmmm perfection.
We didn’t think our little breakfast would be enough to last the whole afternoon at the swamp, so we made a beeline for Central Grocery, which claims to be the originator of the muffuletta sandwich.
February 26, 2016 § 7 Comments
After at least a year of talking about it, Lucy and I finally made it out to New Orleans, Louisiana! Kaiti also joined us, rounding out the group and making it really fun when Uber drivers asked us where we were from — “San Francisco, Chicago and New York.” It was my first time in the South, as apparently Florida doesn’t count.
We stayed in the French Quarter, which was pretty close to most of the action any tourists would want. Some quick observations:
1. The first thing we noticed about the neighborhood was the pretty balconies on almost every building.
All the cutesy old buildings reminded me of San Francisco in a way. We were fortunate to have nothing but blue skies during our trip, so we explored the relatively peaceful streets with gusto. Some parts of the neighborhood had quite a bit of tourist traffic, but considering the population of New Orleans is less than half a million, the whole place felt practically empty to us!
2. There were mule carriages! And these carriages were really big!! I guess mules are really strong? And cute! I was mostly impressed by the complete lack of smell from the animals. I can’t stand walking past the pungent horse carriages by Central Park. But these mules weren’t stinky at all!