**This post comes in response to a request for ideas on what to do in New Orleans! I kindly ask that someone request “Fiji” so that I can go do some Very Serious Research.**
When I realized that I was fast approaching the ripe old age of 30, I also realized that the Universe was handing me a ready-made excuse to create some fun.
Because I have some of the very most awesome friends in all the world (and perhaps because I decided this particular bday adventure had to take place in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities anywhere), I had five lovely ladies joining me in N’Awlins for a weekend of grown-up fun.
Day #10,934- 35: After flying in with Dani, a dear friend from veterinary school, we were greeted at the Louis Amstrong airport with free gold and purple beads and determined this to be a most auspicious start to Bday Weekend 2012.
After meeting up with the rest of our gals and checking into the hotel, we set off for dinner at Boucherie, a tiny house-turned-restaurant in the Carrolton neighborhood.
Boucherie is one of those rare gems that combines a) really delicious food; b) a quaint atmosphere; and c) reasonable prices. The trifecta.
One of my dear friends who used to live in New Orleans- and unfortunately couldn’t join us- had tipped us off that Frenchmen Street was The Place To Be to hear good jazz music. (She also gave us a tip that we should look out for one “Washboard Chaz,” a roving minstrel of sorts, while in the city. I was laughing with another friend over this; the thought of trying to find some random dude wearing a washboard in the whole of New Orleans was admittedly comical. On our last morning in Nawlins, who do we see wandering the French Quarter but some guy with a washboard slung over his neck?! The Universe clearly has a sense of humor.)
While Frenchmen Street is a bit more authentic than Bourbon Street with some reeeally good musical acts, it’s no less a scene of raucous debauchery and was quite entertaining.
The Spotted Cat Music Club doesn’t have a cover, and is subsequently far too crowded for anyone whose budget doesn’t necessitate eating ramen noodles at every meal. We chose to go to dba across the street and got a jazz concert for $10.
The following morning, we woke up early for quick breakfast before a busy day. First- and possibly most exciting- was our scheduled swamp tour. Mr. M & I had taken a different boat tour through the bayou when we first visited New Orleans on a college graduation cross-country trip and loved it. This time we went with Cajun Encounters, which included pick-up at our hotel and transfer to their main location somewhere swampy.
I was a little surprised by how busy the check-in center was and kinda geared up for an overly gimmicky experience. I decided to give in to the kitsch and reclaim my youth with bayou-themed temporary tattoos.
Once our group was separated from the hoards of other swamp-goers (this is done by assigning you a colored wristband to denote your boat & guide), things got a lot better, and a lot more… real.
As soon as you putt away from the dock, you’re in the actual bayou!
Most of us having spent our youth in Southern CA, we were instantly reminded of the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, where you float through a firefly-filled swamp to the sound of banjo music. But it’s real! (Minus the banjo music, unfortunately… that would have gone far with me.)
Just getting to be in such a different and beautiful landscape was justification enough for doing the tour.
It was a little chilly while we were in N’Awlins, and since alligators are cold-blooded, it didn’t bode well for actually seeing one out and about.
We did end up seeing two (yay!), and were even more surprised when our guide popped the top on the igloo he had in the back of the boat to reveal a tiny baby gator named Sauce Piquant.
After touring the bayou, us gals were getting a bit hungry. We decided to head down to the small Café du Monde outpost for beignets and chicory coffee.
You must do this. It’s non-negotiable. If you’ve never had a beignet, it’s essentially a square puffed donut coated in powdered sugar, and it is pure deliciousness.
We realized that it was time to get our powdered sugar-covered selves ready for Real Dinner at Jacques-Imo’s, also in the Carrolton area and just down the street from Boucherie. Jacques-Imo’s specializes in classic Southern dishes, and we tried them all- including the specialty alligator cheesecake, which garnered both a surprise two thumbs up and an unfortunate harkening to our friend Sauce Piquant from earlier in the day, may-the-alligator-in-our-cheesecake-rest-in-peace.
We even managed to run into Chef Jacques himself, who was giving a pep talk to the restaurant staff, and whom we recognized from a nearby mural showing him in a chef’s coat, red clogs, and Bermuda shorts.
Either the atmosphere or the food would be good enough reason to head to Jacques Imo’s- out front is a bedazzled pick up truck adorned with toy alligators and housing an actual, in-use restaurant table.
Stuffed to the brim with fried tomatoes, crayfish etouffee, and New Orlean’s own Abita Strawberry beer, we decided to walk it off by exploring the many art galleries on the street.
To get back to the French Quarter, we wanted to take the St. Charles Streetcar, which essentially gives you an hourlong tour of the Garden District and the fancy Uptown mansions. We didn’t realize that they were doing construction on the far end of the line and ended up walking a mile or so to the first stop.
It was sort of a blessing in disguise, as we got to see the old New Orleans-style, gaslit mansions up close… and ended up scaring ourselves silly arguing about which was the creepiest house on the block.
For $3, the streetcar is a great, cheap one-time option for getting back and forth to the Garden District. But the huge number of stops and very slow antique streetcars mean the ride is reeeeally long. One in our group ended up falling asleep on my shoulder long before we arrived on Bourbon Street.
I’d never seen Bourbon Street, and that’s pretty much exactly what we did- Saw Bourbon Street. It seriously is a whole bunch of craziness.
I have no problem admitting that I’m far too old actually to enjoy that kind of drunken cray-cray.
(Although- and I’m not judging, just observing- Bourbon St seems to be made up of young, just turned 21’ers, bachelor/bachelorette parties… and 50 year old married couples. So perhaps I’m not too old, just in the gap years.)
We ended up at a very low-key bar off Royal Street and realized we had much more of a hankering for ice cream than flaming shots.
That’s when we knew we were officially “old.” ;)
And I couldn’t care less.
To explore my next day’s adventure second-lining at Gospel Brunch and visiting the Vampire Lestat’s tomb, click here!
Details of the Day:
Café Du Monde: There are two Café du Monde locations: the primary, atmospheric institution just south of Jackson Square in the French Quarter… and the outpost in the Riverwalk Center (1 Poydras St). The French Quarter locale is beautiful… and ridiculously crowded. While you should definitely stop by for a picture, get your equally delicious beignets at the far less frequented outpost. We enjoyed our beignets so much that we ended up eating at both over the course of the trip. If you still can’t get enough, beignet mix and chicory coffee are for purchase (although Cost Plus World Markets sells the same Café du Monde products for about half the price!).
Jacques-Imo’s: If you’re a big group, make reservations well in advance! This place is rightly popular. Definitely try the specialty alligator cheesecake, which is more like a savory quiche. Although we were too early to partake, be sure to stop by the Maple Leaf Bar, a really famous dive bar and music venue just next door.
Tips & Tricks: It’s not always easy finding a cab on the street that’ll fit 6 people. If you’ll be hitting N’Awlins with a group, have a nearby restaurant or hotel call for one of those van taxis to ensure you aren’t standing on the street for forever. Like we were.
I know it (hopefully) goes without saying AND that I’m being an annoying vet, but if you DO happen to touch or hold a baby alligator, wash your hands before enjoying more good Nawlins cuisine! Many reptiles are carriers of salmonella, and it’d be a major bummer to spend your trip sick in a bathroom.
**A big shout out to my guest photographer, one Ms. Ralen Gao, who took all of the amazing name-stamped pictures used above (if it looks better than my usual photos… that’s cuz it ain’t mine)! She remains the best photographer I know in real life.**