April 28, 2016 § 1 Comment
After our morning of eating and shopping in the Garden District, we figured we should go see one of New Orleans’ famed cemeteries. Metairie seemed like the best bet because it was right at the end of the Canal streetcar line. I later realized it’s still quite a haul from the streetcar stop to Metairie — and you have to cross a busy intersection/highway ramp — so it’s a good thing we took an Uber instead, though our driver got lost for 20 minutes even with the GPS so I guess the cemetery isn’t as common of a destination as I assumed.
On this map, 1 is the entrance to the cemetery, admittedly a little hard to get to from the south if you’re not paying attention. 2 is the All Saints Mausoleum where we went to take a quick bathroom break. It was very solemn and quiet inside, with lots of fake flowers everywhere.
I had never encountered a mausoleum up close before, and we were pretty confused about whether the names on the tiles meant the bodies were laid to rest inside the walls of the building? (Apparently yes.) There were even some on the outside of the building. Does that mean once the building is full, it accepts no more corpses? Or is it more of an apartment-rental type of situation?
Number 3 on the map above is where the more well-known mausoleums were. The cemetery is VERY large, and walking from one end to the other was hard work under the hot sun! I’d recommend just driving around if you can. We also saw a small bus of people — clearly a tour of some kind — come, take some pictures and leave.
April 6, 2016 § 8 Comments
After spending the morning making an epic trek out to Bywater for barbecue, we parted ways for an afternoon of individual pursuits. Lucy went to the WWII museum, while I took a nap and Kaiti was supposed to go to yoga but ended up napping as well. Post-nap, the two of us decided to indulge our sweet teeth at Sucré, an adorable dessert shop nearby.
We probably went a little overboard ordering, as I was barely digested before our dinner a few hours later. Oops. In the moment, though, gelato and a s’mores skillet sounded like a great idea!
I ended up in a lot of pain later from overeating, but in the moment, they were most certainly delicious. Thus I was still full by the time we got to the famed Commander’s Palace, all dressed to impress due to its strict dress code.
Sadly, we didn’t get to see much of the fancy mansion or its courtyard because we got put in a side room that had its windows covered.
Our first course was the turtle soup, which I had never had before. It was good but not my favorite — glad to try it but probably wouldn’t order again. We also got the Commander’s Palace butcher block, which came with a variety of yummy meats, paté and dips.
For my entrée, I ordered the pecan-crusted gulf fish, apparently one of their signature dishes. It was amazing! The fish was incredibly tender, and I forced myself to finish it even though I was disgustingly full. We also got a side of crawfish tails, which was an unexpectedly generous serving, though it was less impressive to eat because it somehow didn’t have any flavor?
March 22, 2016 § 6 Comments
The first thing on our itinerary for our second full day was to eat BBQ, at Kaiti’s request. (Girl is obsessed.) The best option in town seemed to be the Joint, located east of the French Quarter in a neighborhood called Bywater.
We knew nothing about Bywater before deciding in the morning to walk there. It was only two miles, we had ample time before the Joint opened and nothing else on our schedule. The weather was perfect for a nice morning stroll.
I did a cursory search of the neighborhood to get a feel for it and came across this article, which was not super helpful but at least gave me the sense that we wouldn’t get mugged on the way there. Apparently people love to describe Bywater as “gentrifying,” “great” or even “hipster” (just don’t mention Brooklyn), but that wasn’t really our impression.
As soon as we left the French Quarter and crossed Esplanade Avenue, the vibe became much more residential. The streets were quiet, and we barely saw a soul. There wasn’t much of anything to look at except the occasional colorful house. Railroad tracks ran along the water, so any attempts to view the Mississippi River were blocked by industrial scenery.
Our two-mile trek turned into three as we had to take a winding path due to random bits of construction. We passed maybe two or three businesses total. One of them was a combination bar, grill, game room and laundromat, which just delighted me. This is a picture of a different one I saw, but it was basically the same gist:
The Joint seemed like an oasis in the middle of suburbia. There was really nothing around that we could see. The nondescript restaurant already had two customers waiting outside by the time we got there 20 minutes before opening. We took the extra time to play in the park across the street (despite the sign warning not to trespass on private property).
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!