Estimated Cost: $500
2 adults, 3 nights, tickets for a city tour and other walkable attractions, breakfast at Elizabeth’s and a drink (or 2) on Bourbon St plus other meals.
I’ve been looking forward to writing this one. I have wanted to go to New Orleans for as long as I can remember. Every year for Mardi Gras you immediately think of the city at the bottom of the boot of Louisiana. I have wanted to attend that event for years and almost went for my February trip but decided I should see it before the mayhem of that booze and flashing event. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a birthday, no?
Except it didn’t exactly start out that way. I left way later than I meant to due to unexpected delays so I got there pretty late. It’s an 8-ish hour drive from Dallas. I was anxious that I missed a whole night of enjoyment but I didn’t realize NOLA doesn’t sleep. First, I checked into the Chateau Hotel in the French Quarter around 11pm. My first impression was, “WOW this is close to downtown!” From the hotel, you could see straight down the street to the heart of the city. I was excited to start exploring! There were people walking around outside and there were lights everywhere. These are my people, they understand night = life.
I was disappointed when my hotel conveniently told me it was $33 a night to park in their garage and I could run the risk of parking on the street but there really isn’t anywhere to park. Had I of been aware of this beforehand, who knows, maybe I would have picked another hotel. However, being fresh to the city, I decided I’d just accept it and get to my room. I must say the room took some serious getting used to for me. I hadn’t stayed in anything like this hotel before and I needed a minute. This isn’t a chain! If you’ve read my other travel blogs, you know I usually stay in Best Western or another chain. This was a local spot to rest my head, which I sort of did on purpose. The photos of the hotel were so specific to this location, I just had to try it out! I loved it and it kind of weirded me out. Loved the uneven brick in the courtyard, the custom have circle pool, location, nighttime staff, the wrought iron gates, wine opener and bottle opener in the bathroom, the outdoor hallway at the street. Weirded out by no tub, surprise parking fee, “breakfast”, the fact that the sign in the room says checkout is at 1 but the hotel called me at 12:30 to ask why I hadn’t left at 11, and the room not being as clean as I have come to expect hotels to be.
So, I probably should have called it a night knowing I was a little annoyed by the hotel situation but I wanted to do SOMETHING. So, the staff let me in on the fact that Bourbon Street is right around the corner and there was plenty of spots still open over there. I, again, was delighted by the fact that there were so many night owls in the city. It was great to see some crowds even if there were yelling matches and awkward confrontations going on. I found it disheartening to see so many homeless people around Jackson Square and towards Bourbon Street. In some ways, if I unfortunately found myself homeless, I can see why New Orleans would be where I’d try to figure myself out. There is so much life and and creativity, I’d like to believe that maybe that offers inspiration. Sadly I saw several people sleeping in plastic bags in front of doors and sitting on chairs around the square and by the water. I really hope that improves.
It was during my trek to Bourbon Street that I saw a church that Pope John Paul II prayed at on his second visit to the USA. Pretty cool! Naturally I was at the church before the debauchery of Bourbon Street. LOL I didn’t end up going into any of the bars that night, there just seemed to be too much chaos for someone who is as introverted as I am. I looked from outside and with all the movement in the streets, I was content to walk through it unscathed. Perhaps because it was the tale end of Independence Day, there just seemed to be a lot of celebratory trash everywhere so I decided I had enough of dirty for the night and was ready to try again in the morning, which was my birthday.
One of the reasons I landed on New Orleans for my special day was because of this beauty up above, Fried. Green. Tomato. Benedict. I knew I had to have this. If you’ve never had fried green tomatoes, you have to try it at least once. I just so happen to have been raised eating them, thanks to my southern heritage. It’s hard to find them out in the real world, I have my Nanny to thank for treating me to homemade. So, when I saw THIS beautiful creation, there was NO turning back. I walked round trip 3 miles to get to this heavenly creation at Elizabeth’s and it was so worth it. Oh, 2/3 of that was in the rain. Drippy but undeterred, I had breakfast and a mimosa then went back towards the square to experience the shops and the artistry.
Even though I had the breakfast of life, my spirits were a little dampened – no pun intended. I had a hotel I wasn’t in love with, experienced crowds that made me uneasy, and been rained on trying to eat. However, it was still my birthday so there’s some magic in that. Now that it was daytime, I got to experience the life of the city in the form of music and art. Walking up to the square there were 3 different musicians entertaining crowds coming from every direction. There were several artists sitting at the gates of Jackson Square with their art hanging from the irons. There were ladies making statements of toplessness and inappropriate innuendos on signs. There was a beautiful diversity of the crowds. That energy just revived my soul. I understood why people swear by the city. It’s definitely unlike any other. The creativity flowing through the people and the buildings is quite a joy.
I knew I needed a legit tour to learn more about this place I was at. Since it was New Orleans, it needed to be a ghost tour. My guide was Michael Bill and he was a great story teller. I gained such an appreciation for the city and its history during this tour. Suddenly, the buildings came to life and they all had their own drama to tell. I learned about a man who lost his entire sprawling estate in a gambling match and then hung himself. I learned about a lady born of privilege who owned slaves and treated them most poorly, causing her to be driven out of the city and not returning until she had passed away. I learned about the Ursuline order of sisters who had a convent that women brought their unwanted children to and within the walls is a grave for children. I learned about a man who was a grandmaster chess player whom eventually killed himself. I learned when a new regime took over, there were spikes placed on columns on the homes because they were afraid of reprisals after the ladies of the town threw things at the army as they marched by. So many interesting stories, so little time.
By the end of the night, I could really sense what made people so passionate about this place. New Orleans reminded me of an antique store. So many special items from different time periods put together to make an enthralling experience. New Orleans has been occupied by several different countries, you could not invent the mix. This was also the most walkable city I’ve been to. I’ve done a lot of walking in places I’ve stayed but by walkable, I mean there was rarely a car coming in my direction when I was crossing a street. I was so comfortable I didn’t really need to stop a lot and look around. There was a constant flow and I’ve never been more at ease crossing the street.
Every place I went into seemed so connected to the streets. I ate at a restaurant close to Jackson Square and all the windows were open right on the sidewalk and people walking by were able to conversate with diners. The interior was so elegant, you could imagine it was the scene of society women back in the day wearing corsets drinking tea and eating finger sandwiches during a day of shopping. Yet, it was just as easy to envision a parade during Mardi Gras marching by and getting beads thrown into the windows. Everything just seemed open and connected to the outside, where the heartbeat of the city was pulsating.
Of course, the food must also be mentioned. Gumbo, Jambalaya, beignets, poboys. Yes, please. From the breakfast of dreams to local fare, I could nom there forever. Calories don’t count on vacation, right? Even if they do, I walked miles so that has to count for something. I would recommend this city to everyone but especially those who are creatively inclined. It’s just inspiring. On my way out, I rode over the 23 mile long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, which used to be the longest! It was quite a beautiful sight. If you’d like to see more of the photos from the trip, you can check them out here.
Stay tuned for my next trip in August to Casper City, WY to catch totality in an eclipse that hasn’t happened in North America for over 100 years. See you next time!