Back from Vacation Part 1

It’s been awfully quiet here, not because I’m licking my emotional wounds, but because Deb and I were out celebrating. Last spring Deb completed her master’s degree and I completed my studies in December. We waited until after my student teaching to get away and commemorate the accomplishment with a real vacation. She suggested New Orleans which I have wanted to visit for over 25 years.

We flew out last Tuesday and returned only last night, relaxed and very pleased with the trip. New Orleans is a storied land, different than the east in many, many ways. The food is more flavorful, the people welcoming, and the city is a mélange of architectural styles representing the French, Spanish, and American settlers through the centuries. We enjoy walking cities and this certainly fit the bill, to the point where our feet gave out long before our spirits.

Tuesday

Thankfully, we flew very early and arrived with plenty of time to settle in at the hotel towards the edge of the French Quarter. Once we settled in, we hit the streets and began exploring. Over the week we discovered that unlike our other vacations, there was a distinct rhythm here. In the mornings, we’d see others of our generation (and older) walking the streets. Younger people didn’t really emerge until lunchtime and then the streets swelled as the day wore on until sunset, when it became largely teens and younger adults, usually with drinks in hand.

Unlike previous trips where we poured over tour guides, we relied on the Internet, each of us doing research and combining our recommendations until we built an itinerary that we could live with. Between TripAdvisor and Yelp we did pretty well for ourselves, beginning that first night with dinner at Olivier’s, a very good restaurant.

Walking from our hotel, we wound up on Bourbon Street and that first night I was taken aback a bit by the fervor and cacophony. Barkers held signs and sweet talked people, girls with trays of Jell-O shots swayed in doorways and from most every establishment blared live music from rock cover bands to soft jazz.

Wednesday

We spent the day really exploring the French Quarter, walking street by street, stopping to browse, admire or photograph. I had really wanted to see the Pharmacy Museum and we spent an hour or so there. It is housed in what was the country’s first pharmacy and was filled with tons of artifacts from the 19th century with faded, curled cards that explained everything. Deb walked through it quickly, settling in the airy courtyard to knit while I studied it all.

As we made our way to French Market, we made the obligatory stop at Café Dumond for coffee and beignets. I’ve had better donuts and fried dough elsewhere and they waste tons of powdered sugar daily with how they prep the plates. We strolled further into the market and eventually stopped at a food stall for lunch, Po Boys of course. There was live music here, too, which was appreciated. Deb took her time at the cathedral in Jackson Square, snapping away with abandon.

For dinner, we had late reservations at Commander’s Palace, the upscale eatery in the Garden District. The service was friendly and impeccable while the food was sumptuous and worth the price. It was even worth getting dressed up for.

Thursday

We were up and out early, strolling down the block to rent a car and drive out to visit plantations. Deb knew we should see Evergreen, a still-working sugar plantation and was flexible on which would be the second port of call. The hour drive was pleasant, as we cruised above swamps and away from the city.

Evergreen looks like a working plantation, not a show palace and far from Tara. It had a warm, worn look but nicely maintained. As it happened, we were the only ones on hand for the 9:30 tour so our guide happily took us around. She married into the family that has worked this stretch of land for three centuries and she knew tons of stories about the history. Because it is still working, Quentin Tarantino was elsewhere on the property, shooting Django with Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. We saw their trailers but were kept away from where they were shooting. Instead, we walked through the mansion and down the long road where the still-extant slave quarters stood, giving us a greater sense of what this world was like long ago.

Once done, we asked advice for which to see next, Laura or Oak Alley. Since her plantation was a creole one, she suggested we see Oak Alley which was not. It was several miles in the other direction and when we got there, it was immaculately maintained and more like a traditional Disney tourist attraction. We bought our tickets and waited for the next tour, which ran 40 minutes, unlike the previous tour which took 90. Our young, pretty guide was in period garb, spouting her lines with precision until she got a question that took her off script then her inexperience shone through. The mansion and grounds are lovely to look at, including the twin rows of oak trees that gave the plantation its name. We stayed for lunch, which was ordinary, and then strolled the grounds. I found a Civil War tent, manned by a uniformed docent who happily chatted with me about Louisiana during the war. The city was spared from the war and statues credit Andrew Jackson but as we learned, he didn’t act alone.

Aaron Rosenberg recommended we try Coop’s Place for good food so we sought it out for dinner and while the place is a dive bar with food, the reviews on Yelp bolstered Aaron’s opinion and we can add to it. The food was extremely tasty and inexpensive so we were happy.

That evening we then tried to get into Preservation Hall for the music. Unfortunately, by then, we were tired of being on our feet and when we entered and discovered all the seats were already taken, we decided to leave. We went next door to Pat O’Brien’s, birthplace of the legendary Hurricane cocktail. In the bar, twin pianos were being used to entertain, as a pair of women took turns singing. People would scribble requests on napkins, wrap a dollar in it and drop it on a piano. The singers, using iPads for assistance, played whatever they could from Lady Gaga to Sinatra. It was wonderful, and after an hour, they were done, replaced by a new duo and the singing continued late into the evening. We had our drinks, lingered until the waiters hovered near us hoping to turn over the table and we finally left.

When booking the trip, we did not anticipate this would be college graduation weekend but got a real sense of it as one request after another acknowledged Tulane or LSU grads. This no doubt added to the crowded streets as the weekend wore on.

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