Day 184 (12/1/14): New Orleans, LA
Today is the 6-month anniversary of our trip! And what better place to be celebrating at than New Orleans?! We got an early start to the day and revisited the French Quarter. The streets were eerily quiet in the morning, a stark contrast from the lively night before. For breakfast, we visited the famous Café Du Monde. The only items served at the alfresco café are beignets and coffee as well as milk (regular and chocolate), orange juice and soft drinks. That’s it, that’s the entire menu. The only food option is beignets, so it’s basically just beignets and drinks. Apparently when you’ve been in business since 1862 and have a good thing going, there’s no reason to add complications.
The beignets (pronounced “ben-yays”) are essentially square doughnuts topped with a heaping mound of powdered sugar. They seemed so plain, just fried dough and sugar, but they were delicious! Hot, sweet, doughy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness! The tables, chairs and floors were dusted in powdered sugar, as were our clothes as soon as we sat down. Since the beignets had a surplus of powdered sugar, we partook in the tradition of blowing the ultra fine sugar at one another, contributing to the powdery mess. As for the coffee, the choices are black or au lait and hot or iced. We opted for hot au laits, half coffee and half hot milk. There’s nothing like coffee and doughnuts first thing in the morning!
Across the street from Café Du Monde is Jackson Square. We saw the public square last night but got a closer look in the daylight since we were right there anyway. We then continued walking along Decatur Street and arrived at the French Market, an open-air shopping center selling souvenirs, accessories, knick-knacks, artwork and more.
A brief stroll just a few streets up brought us to Royal Street, a sophisticated hub of local art galleries, chic antique shops, elegant boutiques, and classy jewelry stores. Royal Street is the epitome of a French Quarter street and THE place to go for fine art, unique gifts, antiquated jewelry, vintage clothing, and French antiques dating back from the 17th to early 20th-centry. The notorious LaLaurie Mansion is also located on Royal Street. This is where the horridly cruel Madame Delphine LaLaurie gruesomely tortured and killed her slaves.
Every day between 11am and 4pm, the street is blocked off from vehicular traffic, becoming a pedestrian mall. As we strolled through the picturesque roadway, we came upon a live performance by the street musicians known as The Royal Street Windin’ Boys featuring Jenavieve Cook singing and playing the trumpet. The incredible music ensemble consisted of a 5-piece band, including a trombone, clarinet, banjos and a stand-up bass. There was even a tap dancer adding to the rhythm with his impressive moves! They played a mellifluous hybrid of early jazz, swing, blues and ragtime tunes.
The energetic music was intoxicating. We were completely entranced by their magnetic performance and could have watched them for hours on end. Our visit to New Orleans was one of the highlights of our entire trip, and this was the highlight of our time in New Orleans! The Royal Street Winding Boys and Miss Jenavieve Cook officially made Royal Street our favorite section of the French Quarter! We purchased their CD to have a lasting piece of New Orleans whenever we want to reminisce about the enchanting town.
The Royal Street Windin’ Boys featuring Jenavieve Cook performing live on Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, LA
On our way back to the RV Resort we were staying at, we stopped at the St. Louis Cemetery #1. This is the oldest surviving cemetery in New Orleans and the site of the final resting place for the legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Here is a VIRTUAL TOUR and DATABASE of the tombs in the cemetery. There are a few different graves alleged to be the burial site of Marie Laveau. As we explored the graveyard, we noticed several tombs marked with countless “X’s”. Most of the “X’s” were a rusty red color, etched by a brick from one of the other neighboring tombs.
There is a rumored voodoo ritual involving Marie Laveau’s gravesite. One of the various versions claims that if you want her spirit to grant you a wish, draw “XXX” on the tomb, call out your wish, and if it comes true, you must return and leave an offering. Based on the number of trinkets left at the graves, quite a few wishes must have come true! However, many people claim that this is not a true voodoo practice, just a myth and act of vandalism that damages the historical tombs. In fact, since someone defaced the mausoleum with a coat of pink latex paint awhile back, visitors are no longer permitted to enter the cemetery without an official tour guide (we got there just in time!). Marie Laveau’s tomb is said to be the second most visited burial site in the U.S. after Elvis Presley’s grave!
After all of the walking and exploring we had done today, we had worked up quite the appetite. Many of the restaurants in the French Quarter seemed rather touristy though. To get a better taste of local New Orleans cuisine, we traveled a couple of miles north to Katie’s Restaurant. This Mid-City establishment was featured on our favorite Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” and did not disappoint! Katie’s serves something for everyone including Creole, American and Italian fare.
We started with a bowl of gumbo since it would be sacrilegious to not get gumbo while in Louisiana. Next we shared a Crawfish Beignet, a lightly fried pastry filled with a blend of crawfish, jalapeno peppers, onions, and three types of cheese. This savory version of a beignet was the perfect balance of cheesy heat and sweet with chunks of crawfish. The Crawfish Beignet was the best dish we had in New Orleans both in flavor and uniqueness. We still talk about it to this day and salivate every time! One of our new goals in life is to visit “The Big Easy” again and return to Katie’s for more Crawfish Beignet!
We also had a bowl of red beans and rice, something we had been wanting to try while in Louisiana. Red beans and rice are not regularly on the menu. However, the dish came with one of the specials for the night, and the waiter let us order it as a side. Each dish was a flavor explosion in our mouths! In the words of Triple D’s host Guy Fieri: Katie’s food was “out of bounds!” New Orleans cuisine is an indelible experience all in its own. Sadly, people don’t have enough stomachs to thoroughly sample all of the enticing menus. Thank goodness we were only there for a few days, or we would have packed on the poundage!
Day 185 (12/2/14): New Orleans, LA
As much as we adore the French Quarter, we realized that there’s more to see of NOLA (New Orleans, LA). We visited the New Orleans City Park, home to the world’s largest and oldest grove of mature live oaks! It’s no surprise that the oak trees were the best feature of the park in my opinion. Our journey through the South has given me a sizable soft spot for live oaks and the graceful Spanish moss that accompanies them.
While we were out and about, we couldn’t pass up another opportunity to eat at Katie’s Restaurant! We went back for lunch to have more gumbo and try the Seafood Beignet since the Crawfish Beignet was so good yesterday. We thought the various types of seafood in the beignet would be in individual chunks, but they were all combined like a ground sausage with fennel seed. While tasty, the seafood version didn’t compare to the crawfish one.
Our outing continued with a drive to the elegant Canal Street. Once the main street of New Orleans, the major thoroughfare is lined with palm trees, high-end shops and luxury hotels. We also explored downtown New Orleans as we headed to the Garden District. While en route, we accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up on the Crescent City Connection bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Throughout our travels, we’ve realized that it’s okay to make a wrong turn now and then. Sometimes, what you see along the way ends up being just as (or more) significant as your destination. We’ll ultimately get back on track, and in the meantime, we might stumble upon a fortuitous surprise. After turning around from going the wrong way, we had a remarkable skyline view of downtown New Orleans from across the river! We eventually did make it to the Garden District, which seemed like a great local neighborhood with a variety of restaurants.
Longing to be back in the French Quarter, we dropped the truck off at the campground before walking the few blocks there. This way we wouldn’t have to worry about parking. Plus, the area is so walk-able! It’s much easier to stroll from place to place or even take a ride in a carriage rather than try to navigate through the narrow streets in a car, especially since many of the streets are overflowing with pedestrians and bicyclists. We visited Frenchman Street, the funky musical district known for its live music clubs. From there, we returned to Café Du Monde for one more and final round of beignets and au lait coffee. Just as good as the first time!
As we kept walking through the French Quarter, we made our way back to Bourbon Street. Even though we were still pretty full from lunch (and the beignets and coffee we just had), this was our last chance for another New Orleans meal! We settled on the Red Fish Grill located right on Bourbon Street. Our dinner began with the Alligator Sausage & Seafood Gumbo. This was our first time trying alligator sausage and the third type of gumbo we had tasted (Katie’s was the best). We then shared the Catfish & Shrimp Creole, a flavorful seafood stew, and a sinful Double-Chocolate Bread Pudding. This was a fitting last hurrah meal.
To summarize, New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is magically enchanting and utterly dynamic with an electrifying energy! The vibrantly colorful area hosts an exorbitant amount of personality. There’s also an eerie aura that hovers in the air like an imperceptible haze constantly reminding visitors of New Orleans haunting past. Between all the food, music, architecture, and history, the French Quarter is visually, auditorily and mentally stimulating as well as all-around entertaining. Absorbing all of the flavors, scents, sounds, and sights was a sensory overload! Honestly though, I can’t even do New Orleans justice. Spending time there is an adventure that will be eternally ingrained in your soul. It’s a place everyone should experience at some point in their life! We definitely plan on visiting again and can’t wait to go back!