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Posts tagged ‘new orleans’

searching for the perfect sazerac…

I’ve accepted I am never going to catch up on all the travels of the past couple of plane-crazed years but I am going to try and hit some highlights and mix it up a bit… so, let’s go back to New Orleans…

Last year New Orleans was my birthday trip.  Quite a few of the adventures made it onto the blog and I will return once I’ve ticked off some of the other “must see” destinations on my list.  Living in Vancouver, I am spoiled by numerous amazing bartenders making classic – and original – cocktails so I have been educated in the history of the Sazerac.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazerac

The Sazerac is a very butch cocktail, supposedly the world’s first.  Like any drink with such a long history, it’s not clear if all the facts are accurate but it apparently started out as a combination of Cognac and Peychaud’s Bitters with an absinthe rinse for a hint of danger 🙂

It is the official cocktail of New Orleans and one of my favourites so I sampled a few during my stay in New Orleans.  My final morning in the city it was pouring rain so I decided one last Sazerac at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel before the taxi to the airport was the way to go.

http://therooseveltneworleans.com/dining/the-sazerac-bar.html

I had planned to get to the Roosevelt Hotel earlier but there is way too much to do in New Orleans to get to everything.  You SHOULD go to the Sazerac bar though!  A step back in history.  If you like your cocktails manly, order a Sazerac.  If you like them softer, order a Ramos Gin Fizz.  Just watching the bartender properly shake it is worth the price of the cocktail!  And the ingredients in the Sazerac at the Roosevelt made it far superior to any of my other experiments.

making a gin fizz

making a gin fizz

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to New Orleans… and because I was sitting at the bar sipping and chatting with the bartender at a quiet time of day I ended up in a conversation with the couple sitting next to me.  The wife was fascinated that I travelled alone.  They were from Texas – so I enthusiastically told them my birthday plan for 2014 was Austin!  I had to suppress my grin at their reply, “Austin is NOT Texas!!!”  Exactly why I was going there first 😉

I considered packing my cowboy boots but went for the dangerous punk-inspired black spike encrusted slippers instead – the right call 😉

I also brought my Glamor Trash earrings.  I have been wanting to mention James.  I think his earrings garner the most compliments.  He makes them put of old vinyl records just to make them even cooler!  I discovered his work at Dutch Alley on my way to the French Market.  His work is so distinctive I recognized it at the stall in the market.  I asked, “are you James?”  He wanted to see what I had bought.  He was so charming – and his work is so incredible – I bought a second pair 😉

http://dutchalleyartistsco-op.com/jamesjensen.html

So, buy some Glamor Trash earrings as your New Orleans souvenir, dress up like a lady and have a cocktail at the Sazerac Bar.  You will capture a lot of the magic in that one experience – a rich history, southern hospitality and creative surprises.

 

getting off bourbon street…

Well, I’m already in Puno… but it seems quiet so might allow me to catch up a little bit.  There will be a little more New Orleans when I get home.  There are a couple more half-written posts but I need good internet to look up links for them and I am finding the internet a little elusive in Peru… but I have already made a friend and there are a few stories to tell so stay tuned…

First, though, I am finally going to finish this post for New Orleans that I keep adding to at random moments.

So, we are not sitting beside the highest navigatable lake in world and keeping our fingers crossed we won’t succumb to altitude sickness… we are in New Orleans searching for some decent jazz…

After my two nights on Bourbon Street, I decided it was time to get off the tourist route and check out Frenchmen Street, which was supposed to feature the jazz clubs that used to exist on Bourbon Street before Larry Flynt and college students on spring break took over.

I am known for being a bit intrepid – and know the best way to get to know a city is to walk it!  And that way – if you can’t find a taxi – at least you know your way home in the dark 🙂  Of course you should start navigating your way through an unfamiliar city in the light.

Due to my Friday night revels – and 5am bedtime – I needed a nap pre-dinner.  I can sleep through practically anything but naps don’t present the opportunity for really deep sleep so shortly into my nap I heard a riotous soundtrack on the street.  I wondered what was going on – but I was too exhausted to jump up immediately and find out.

And it ended up I had plenty of time.  For the second time in two days I hit the streets of New Orleans and discovered an unexpected parade!

It’s still not entirely clear the occasion but it has something to do with the Italian immigrants to New Orleans.  Mostly it just seemed like an excuse for a parade – and corollary partying 🙂  No worries I would be walking the street alone! 😉

Luckily the processional was on the street outside my hotel marching in the direction of Frenchmen Street.  So the best plan of action seemed to be to follow the parade route.  And I got some extra entertainment to accompany my walk 😉

I am quite famous for the speed at which I move, even through crowds, so it didn’t take me too many blocks to get in front of the parade so I could cross over to Decatur Street, my original plan.  Decatur runs parallel to the Mississippi and is full of tourist delights.  Including “authentic” cuisine.

I decided to try one of them out as I had to have some classic Louisiana cuisine as part of my cultural experience.  I also thought I should have a “Hurricane”.  Just because…  My server was wonderful so when she informed me they made great Hurricanes and crawfish étouffé my order was settled.  The Hurricane was too sweet for me but I had my first crawfish!  And a signature local dish.  Apparently in Louisiana, cayenne is as ubiquitous as pepper 🙂

The charming server gave me a rundown of the history of Frenchmen Street and gave me directions from the restaurant.  So, within minutes, I had ducked into my first jazz club (Maison). The band was very good but the jazz was traditional so I stayed for a set and then moved on.

I had read my guidebook by then and went in search of The Spotted Cat.  The band at The Spotted Cat was very talented.  And I’d learned to order Ariba beer.  There was decent local beer in New Orleans – you just needed to make the right inquiries.  So I was ready to settle in for the night…

But New Orleans wins hands down for the most ladies rooms out of service in one weekend!  Not sure what girls get up to in New Orleans…  We got to directed to the men’s but it was gross – and meant there was only one tiny, sticky bathroom for the entire bar.

So I listened to a set and escaped across the street to Snug Harbor – and a clean, functioning bathroom 🙂  At first I was standing in a long line but it was late on Saturday night and I hadn’t had to stand in a line to get into a bar in New Orleans yet so I could afford to be patient.  Once inside, though, it got confusing.   When you are alone you naturally eavesdrop so I gathered everyone was lined up to go into a show and the cover was $25 so it was a commitment.  I had already ordered a drink before this was all clear so watched the show on the TV monitor and overheard some interesting bar conversations…

But my goal was to see live jazz… so off we headed to see if the fourth time was a charm… and it was!  This time I just paid the cover.  It was a whole $10 🙂  But I figured maybe my $10 would score me a better show.

And my instincts were spot on 🙂  The club was called dba.  Not jazz this time but roots music with a touch of soul and a definite southern vibe.  The bar itself was impressive but I was there to hear music so headed for the stage.  The band on stage was excellent but they kept talking about Andrew – in a way that suggested he was a bit of a demi-god to the New Orleans music scene.

So I knew I was waiting for Andrew just like everyone else… except they knew what to expect.   I was already pretty close to the stage but just before Andrew came on some girl directly in front just went into free fall.  Apparently she had a posse and they scooped her before she hit the floor and no one had to call the paramedics.  But they had to carry her off to a bench – or a bed – and it opened up a large gap on the dance floor right in front of the band.  A dark-haired girl and I looked at each other and mutually agreed that it would be acceptable for us to step into the empty space.

I still had no idea who Andrew was but I had a front row seat to his show – and he seemed to have a lot of fans!  It ended up being an unforgettable night, ending on the kind of high that only comes from being willing to live a little and take some calculated risks.

It ended up that it was the dark-haired girl’s birthday, a couple of days before mine, so we had an impromptu mutual celebration.  And her friends had ordered mini cupcakes!  They offered me one.  I loved the music and Andrew was promoting a new CD so I went to buy one on the break and got a second mini cupcake!  And because I was so close to the stage, it was easy at the end to meet Andrew and congratulate him on a fantastic show.  Supporting young talent is one of my things…

It’s a great CD.  Here is the link to him…

http://andrewduhon.com/

I am especially into the song “Beautiful Girl”… it’s on my regular music rotation and every time I hear it that whole night comes back to me.  The wonderful power of music…

In the end, I couldn’t get a taxi… so had to walk all the way home from Frenchmen Street.  But I knew my way…   the only hard part was actually going directly to the hotel and not stopping in the bars I heard along the way to listen to more music…

Make sure you get off Bourbon Street… you won’t be disappointed… and maybe you too will have a magical night full of serendipity …

DO talk to strangers ;)

Maybe not when you’re five 🙂  but my life would be a lot poorer if I hadn’t learned how to talk to strangers.  And I wouldn’t have an obsession with crawfish 😉

As my regular readers have learned to accept, we are time travelling again – and using geography as a tool to tie together disparate experiences.

So I am writing about New Orleans sitting in the airport in Panama City drinking premium rum (12 year old Abuelo – definitely a discovery!).  And crawfish is on my mind because I finally had some at the airport in Houston.

That is the beauty of travel.  I wasn’t planning to be in Houston last month when I was in New Orleans.  But, while I was trying to find a decent glass of beer and hear some jazz, I was eavesdropping on a lively conversation between some exuberant locals and guy with a questionable haircut and a hard to place accent.

But I mostly hang out in bars for the entertainment value – and chance to engage in lively discourse and meet locals.

I am very quick to smile and that gets people’s attention.  The mystery guy turned out to be Finnish and he was eating oysters from the Gulf.

I keep trying to love oysters but so far I remain on the fence.  But I have a lot of great memories that involve oyster eating so I think they ARE special 🙂

The Louisiana guys were making the poor Finnish guy feel bad that he had overpaid for his gulf oysters while they consume them by the sack for practically nothing.

What was more interesting to me was the discussion about crawfish.  Apparently it was crawfish season in the gulf and I determined that I should have some even if I didn’t exactly know what they were 🙂

I did manage a crawfish étouffé while I was in New Orleans but my time was too limited to seek them out again and really confirm exactly what a crawfish tasted like.  (But I did manage to engage in a lively conversation with the Finnish stranger about multiculturalism and the virtue of speaking lots of languages…)

Life is full of serendipity!  So there was a proper seafood restaurant in the Houston airport right next to my gate.

I think I got a few tourist points when I asked the server if it was still crawfish season.  It was!

They were deep-fried (welcome to the south :)) but I still got a much stronger impression of their flavour and texture.  And – if you share my fondness for shellfish – they are a great addition to your repertoire.

And I’m still not 100% sure how to describe them.  They are bigger than a shrimp, smaller than a prawn and not at all like a langoustine as I had imagined from the bar conversation.  The thing they most closely resemble is a spot prawn – a short-term delicacy of my home region.  Both are really worth trying, more fragile and succulent than ordinary shellfish.

I talked to lots of strangers in New Orleans.  It has become my new modus operandi when I travel.  My ten year old self is still in shock!!!

I think it’s a great example of how any human is actually capable of change.  I certainly support the proposition that you can’t change someone and should never enter a relationship with that as one of the goals in your five year plan.

It is a setup for disappointment – and conflict.  I have left all my relationships because I knew I couldn’t change the other person – and he wasn’t open to any modifications.

I have learned that is the norm.  But it’s kind of tragic.  When you get born into the world, no one says, “wow, I hope I will get parents and teachers and bosses who hold me to an almost impossible standard and constantly critique me ;)”

But, people, it has its rewards 🙂  It keeps you off balance.  It makes you strive.  It quells any opportunity to get arrogant before you have really achieved anything.

I continue to evolve.  I have conquered a lot of anxiety and I have become almost fearless.  But in a great way that relies on geek-worthy risk assessment and self-confidence borne out of life experience.

So… not only do I talk to strangers… strangers talk to me… I engage with the locals everywhere that I go.  AND I meet other travellers.  And hear their stories.  And am inspired to further explore the world…

Talking to strangers requires some finesse.  It needs to come from the right place.  You want to make sure it is a genuine interest in other people, not some lonely, needy gesture that makes the other person worry you might be a stalker 🙂

One of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans was making a new friend while were both perusing the menu at the Red Fish Grill.  Neither of is pushed it too fast so by the time we had both decided independently it might be far more enjoyable to dine together than alone, the choice was easy to make.

http://www.redfishgrill.com/

And what a great decision!  I met a fascinating man with a personal history to rival mine.  We talked about the arts, travel, the various cities and countries that had left a mark on us.

It was my first experience of Bourbon Street.  As previously noted, Bourbon Street definitely not a total class act –  but, luckily for me, I explored it with my new friend who embodied the concept of a Southern gentleman so he gave even the low rent aspects of Bourbon Street a borrowed sense of decorum.

It certainly gave tacky Bourbon Street a halo it hadn’t earned and etched yet another classic cinematic evening into my memory.  Those are the moments when I am so happy that I learned to talk to strangers 😉

I raise my glass of delicious 12 year old rum to everyone out there who talked to a stranger and came away with a special memory…

Hopefully I will finish the New Orleans stories before I get on the plane to Lima… 🙂

we’re not in Kansas, Toto! ;)

eventually I will finish writing about New Orleans 🙂  April is usually less nuts so fingers crossed…

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived in “the big easy”.  The nickname suggested promise – and the friendly guy at Homeland Security in Vancouver had been there and thought I was in for a treat.

And he was right.  The first hint was when I checked in and the guy at the front desk told me about the libertine rules on Bourbon Street.  You don’t normally get to walk around with alcohol on the streets of the United States.

But New Orleans doesn’t feel like the USA.  It’s not quite Europe – or Montreal – but it does have an European flavour you rarely encounter in the land of the stars and stripes.  There is a relaxed attitude to life – and playful vice.  There is a rapturous connection to food and drink.  And there is a sense of hospitality that reminds me fondly of Europeans.

It feels more multicultural than most places I have been in the United States.  I think some of it stems from the history.  Much like Canada, it was a place whose potential was not obvious to 18th century Europeans, so it was tossed like a hot potato between the French and the Spanish with only the hardy and disadvantaged willing to try to make something of the place.

music on the streets

music on the streets

Fighting off the alligators in the swamps and hoping a hurricane wouldn’t wipe out your shelter couldn’t have been much fun but it did mean there was little chance of a hoity-toity Northern European culture developing.  It became a place for mavericks and outsiders.

And musicians apparently 🙂  Of course a lot of great music has come from the streets – and from the oppressed trying to find a way to cope.  In New Orleans you hear all kinds of music.  And some of the best comes from the streets.  It is a music lover’s paradise.

There is music on Bourbon Street – but also on Royal, on St Peter, at Jackson Square, in the French Market… and likely lots of places I never even got to…

One of the other big delights is food 🙂  I’ve already mentioned some of the meals – and beignets…

But there are other treats.  One of the most famous is pralines.  My aimless wandering brought me to Laura’s Candies, a place I can highly recommend.  Lots of free praline samples – but also salt water taffy, the largest truffles I have ever seen in plenty of exotic flavours and – only in New Orleans – chocolate alligators! 🙂

The other big discovery came courtesy of my guidebook… a gelateria (La Divina Gelateria) full of strange and exotic music on NOLA streetsdelights… I managed to score some root beer (locally made :)) gelato and then listened to an incredible band on the street – the serendipity of the streets of the French Quarter.

And you can also play Tom Sawyer and take a real steamboat up the Mississippi.  As a child I dreamed of taking a steamboat the entire length of the Mississippi.  I’m

the mighty mississippi

the mighty mississippi

not sure if that’s even possible but a couple of hours allows one some nostalgia and a view of the city from a new perspective.

And there are also garden tours, cemetery tours, swamp tours… maybe other cities have gardens worthy of tourism but only in New Orleans would cemeteries and swamps make the grade…

I didn’t have time for any of them.  I didn’t manage to find room for bread pudding.  I still have to try gumbo.  And fresh crawfish straight out of the Gulf… there are all kinds of reasons for another trip… the only question is when… 😉

 

living la vita local (also dolce :)

I am back in New Orleans!   In my mind at least… there is still much to tell and recommendations to add to the internet so here we go…

Thursday night I just winged it, hoping I could at least find my way back to the hotel.  Friday night I knew I had to try a little harder.  My first impression of Bourbon Street was that it was pretty sleazy and full of drunk college students.  I think both statements hold but I wanted to see if there was more to it.

So I decided it was time to pull out the guidebook and see if having a plan might yield a better result.

My first stop was Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House.  It’s in a building from the early 1800s with an antique interior my mother would love.  Since I was in the house of Absinthe, I figured an Absinthe House Frappe was the thing to have.  As the bartender promised, it tasted like black licorice.  Worth a try but I decided to stick to bourbon…

http://www.ruebourbon.com/oldabsinthehouse/history.html

and to move on to my next destination.  I had decided the next thing to tick off the list was to stand on a balcony so I could watch the cacophony playing out on Bourbon Street on a Friday night.  My guidebook had recommended a place called Krazy Corner so that was my next stop.

the flavour of bourbon street...

the flavour of bourbon street…

It’s definitely worth getting onto a balcony on Bourbon Street while you are in New Orleans for a unique perspective on the world but it’s a lot more interesting to check out the music so I headed downstairs to where the band was playing.

I don’t think I had even listened to an entire song before a gentleman who sounded like a local asked me to dance.  I’m not sure I will ever get to be a good dancer but I seem to manage to get pulled onto the dance floor in foreign cities as part of the free entertainment.

No one else was dancing – but Chris was a local and he was an awesome dancer so I just tried not to step on his feet or fall on the floor when he twirled me.  It was my “Big Easy” moment when Dennis Quaid makes Ellen Barkin dance 😉

 

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/big_easy/

And the band was wonderful.  That would be my discovery that night.  Bourbon Street is full of excellent cover bands.  If you love “Living on a Prayer”, this is your place 🙂  I think I heard it three times!

At that point, though, I was still on my mission to discover Bourbon Street based on my guidebook’s recommendations so, after five dances, I told Chris I was going to listen to some jazz across the street (the Maison Bourbon I have already written about).

a beautiful balcony

a beautiful balcony

I didn’t realize he was coming with me 😉  It changed my whole night.  That was the end of the guidebook.  I now had a local guide – with a delicious Louisiana accent 😉  One of the best life skills I ever developed was an ability to talk to strangers.  It’s more art than science but I always try my best to connect with locals when I travel so that I get a traveller experience rather than a tourist one.

As Chris confirmed, finding a local on Bourbon Street on Friday night is not an easy task.  But his friend had not shown and he loved to dance so there he was, looking for a dance partner.

He was more interested in cover tunes than jazz so I just went with the flow.  I knew I had two more nights to find some jazz and it would be more fun to just follow his lead.

So I heard a lot of Bon Jovi 🙂  And Aerosmith.  Some Def Leppard.  Chris knew all the tunes and would sing along.  He couldn’t believe I didn’t know this music.  But, when they played “4 Non Blondes”, I was the one who could identify the band!

An indie rock chick dancing to “Living on a Prayer” as interpreted by a Bourbon Street cover band is not a normal sight.  But I have always been very democratic about my musical experiences.  At heart I am a music snob – but opening yourself to new experiences and new people enriches your life.

You end up dancing until 4am.  You get to walk down Bourbon Street with a “to go cup” – and have some drunken kid bang into you with nary an apology so that you end up with a beer facial.  But your gallant local guide offers his sleeve to wipe your dripping face.  You learn some new tunes.  You get walked back to your hotel in the middle of the night.  You get some insight into the city you are visiting from a local.

And – most importantly – you create a unique memory that will last long after the trip is over…

 

how to celebrate your birthday :)

check out beads on the cat!

check out beads on the cat!

I made the right call 🙂  It has been raining all day and I have been working since 6:30am…

Technically Sunday wasn’t my birthday but I decided I would do a swap and celebrate Sunday and work Tuesday so it felt like a special birthday day to me :).  It ended up being a truly wonderful birthday.  The whole trip really – but especially my last day in New Orleans.

It started when I met up with the new friend I had made on Thursday night (another lovely Southern gentleman even if he was originally born in the north :).  We went to a place called Café Beignet.  It’s something you will want to remember 😉   It’s at 334 Royal Street and is a charming European style café.  But what is even more exciting is that apparently its beignets were featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”.

http://www.cafebeignet.com/

The first time I went in I hadn’t yet learned about beignets so ended up with carrot cake.  But I read the Food Network advertising and thought I would have to go back to have a beignet.

By Sunday, I had already been to Café du Monde, another place you must go when you come to New Orleans.  Café du Monde is next to the French Market.  It is open 24/7 and all they serve are beignets and beverages.  It is apparently one of the most famous places in New Orleans and you will wait in line to buy donuts.  I remembered fondly my trip to Voodoo Donuts in Portland as I was standing in line…

http://www.cafedumonde.com/

Having a beignet at Café du Monde is an experience and I would encourage everyone to do it once.  But the beignets at Café Beignet are much better!  And the line is shorter.

My friend had to catch his plane so I took him to see Jackson Square and the Mississippi en route back to his hotel.  By then I was a bit of an expert on what to see in the French Quarter and he had been in business meetings for most of his visit.  I then strolled around the Quarter a little more and tried to get some better photos for this blog!

looks like england :)

lafitte’s blacksmith shop bar

Eventually I got to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar.  It’s one of the oldest bars in New Orleans and another stop you should make on your visit.   Apparently Jean Lafitte operated it as a blacksmith shop as a cover for his pirate enterprises.  Not quite Pirates of the Caribbean but….

http://www.lafittesblacksmithshop.com/Homepage.html

The drinks are the same as anywhere else but the ambience is special.  You can imagine you are drinking with pirates 🙂  I also went to Pat O’Brien’s because it’s very

a little old, a little new

a little old, a little new

famous but I would give it a miss.  Maybe the courtyard… but there are lots of more charming places to check out.

I then went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner – and sober up 😉  I planned to go to the Palace Café for dinner.  I am sure it is a fine place but it’s famous too and it seemed impossible to get a place to sit.

And serendipity kicked in again!  I was actually headed for K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen (which was recommended by the bartender at the restaurant I actually ate at so certainly worth checking out) but before I got there I spied something that looked like home 🙂

Generally I like to go with the local culture and not just do things I could do in Vancouver but supposedly this was one of the top 10 new restaurants in Louisiana in 2012.  And I thought it might be a nice change to have a meal without rice or beans on the plate.

It is called SoBou and is unlike anything else I saw while I was in New Orleans.  It’s a place for hipsters :).  My guidebook mentioned some spots for hipsters but I think she isn’t too familiar with what hipsters really do…  They would definitely be right at home at SoBou, which stands for South of Bourbon.  A little piece of hipster Manhattan in the heart of the French Quarter.

Definitely go to this place!  The bartender mixed me up a lovely cocktail.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what he called it – but it’s the kind of place you can trust the bartender to just make you a cocktail 🙂  And the food was divine!

I was a bit obsessed with crawfish due to a random conversation I had had with some locals on Friday.  I’m still not totally sure what a crawfish is and I know I need to eat more of them but I will be back in New Orleans :).  Apparently this is crawfish season so definitely look for some crawfish if you come in March.

They didn’t have any crawfish on the menu so I had to settle for a crawfish bisque with crawfish popcorn, which was divine!  And then I had some Gulf shrimp that had seen some mesquite to go with my apple and pear salad since I was craving some greens – and not collared ones.  It was an exquisite meal and a wonderful birthday present – happy birthday to me 😉

http://www.sobounola.com/

They didn’t have any music though and I wanted more jazz since it was my last night in town so I headed back to the Maison Bourbon where I had had a fleeting visit on Friday night.  Since it was Sunday, it wasn’t too crowded and I actually managed to score a seat at a table.

http://www.maisonbourbon.com/

The house band was playing and they were fantastic!  And they were playing the great jazz of the 50s with lots of solos and improvisation.  I had hit the jackpot.  There was only one small problem.  The ladies room was out of order.  So I decided it was time to find a place with a functioning restroom and went up at the break to buy a CD since the band was so good and I wanted to support them.

Jamil is a modern day Louis Armstrong.  He plays a mean trumpet, has a booming voice that doesn’t need a mike and is a showman with charm to spare.  I mentioned New Orleans was a birthday present to myself and he was determined I should stay for the last set so he could play “happy birthday”.  I told him about my ladies’ room problem.  So he got someone to escort me the ladies in the bar next door so that I didn’t have to leave.

http://www.jamilsharif.com/

It really is something to have “happy birthday” played by a jazz band!  I highly recommend it.  Apparently the Maison Bourbon is dedicated to the preservation of jazz.  It really felt like I had stumbled into a different era.  Since I was at a table all by myself, they asked if I would share with another couple.  It ended up the lady was from Switzerland and had been to New Orleans to hear jazz 40 years ago!

A lot had changed, for course, so I wrote down all my best recommendations for her to try and get a good experience of the music scene in New Orleans.  I didn’t want her to be a random tourist on Bourbon wondering if all had been lost… it really hasn’t… but you need to know where to look.

One of the most poignant moments during the performance was when Jamil and the band did “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  His voice is very close to Louis’ so you really feel like you are listening to the real thing.  I had to fight for it but it was the song we played to close my father’s funeral and I thought it was a great representation of his attitude toward life.  The last time I talked to him was on my birthday so, needless to say, my eyes were moist listening to the song, but in a good memories sort of way.

You would think that would be enough to make it a perfect birthday.  And that was almost the end… I really wanted to hit the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone before I left town as it was one of the few things left on my list I hadn’t yet done.

we are in the south :)

we are in the south 🙂

But it was really late by then and it was Sunday night so when I first arrived it looked like the bar was closed.  But then I spied a side entrance that was still open and there were people sitting at the bar so I managed to order a shot of bourbon just before last call.

The Carousel Bar is pretty cool… it actually rotates just like a carousel, so it’s not that you think the room is spinning – it actually is!

http://hotelmonteleone.com/dining-entertainment/

What a way to finish my birthday – a glass of bourbon on Bourbon Street at a spinning bar.  Made even more special because my wonderful 49th birthday in Portland courtesy of the US Air Force all began because I was drinking bourbon – and they were intrigued by my bourbon flight… that story may make it onto the blog sometime…

winding my way to the mississippi…

Get ready!  There is going to be a lot to talk about… why you haven’t actually heard anything from New Orleans.  I was busy trying to do everything on my list – once I managed to make one – in three days.  But I came pretty close 🙂  And definitely have lots of great tips for anyone travelling to the city.

The plan is to organize my thoughts a bit and group activities and stories together so it won’t be a play-by-play of every moment in New Orleans but the moments will get captured.

To start us off, I am going to commence at almost the beginning… the first moment I took the trip seriously and tried to actually DO something in any event.  We will talk about the first night but, due to all the work commitments that extended right up until the moment I got on the plane, it was just an aimless stroll without any sort of plan.  But serendipity hit and it ended up being a wonderfully memorable evening!

I knew I had to get off Bourbon Street though and see something of the city.  My guidebook had recommended a steamboat trip on the Mississippi so I wandered into what I thought was an official tourism centre.  Not so much… really just people trying to pitch you tours.  But the young guy pitching the tour had a sweet disposition so I wanted to help him make quota and there was a brochure for the Natchez so I asked if he could book me on it so that he could earn his commission.  (I think I ended up overpaying so would recommend just going to the Natchez to buy your ticket but the US economy is suffering so I was there to help 😉

It also provided the agenda for the afternoon.  At that point I could locate Canal, Bourbon and the street I lived on (even though I didn’t know what it was called).  But my first step in a new city is always to walk around so I know where I’m going without having to pull out a map too much and look like a tourist.

At that point I was on Royal so wandered down a bit.  It’s a gorgeous street and fulfilled my Disney dream of the French Quarter.  It really IS as cute and charming as Walt portrayed it.

It’s also filled with dudes who have the same charisma and raffish charm Dennis Quaid exemplified in “The Big Easy.”  I don’t know if they birth shy people in New Orleans 😉  They definitely birth people who know how to party.

here come the beads!

here come the beads!

I had only been wandering for a short while and I heard a parade!  It isn’t Mardi Gras so I wondered what was up.  Of course I always head toward the happening when I travel.  It’s how you really get to experience the place.  It looked like a St. Patrick’s Day parade, complete with copious quantities of green beads.  But it was March 8th, not March 17th, so I wondered what was up.

Well, my photos are not so great because taking out my camera and standing still made me a target for lively guys brandishing green beads, which I quickly discovered were meant to be placed around my neck in exchange for a kiss.  Cheeky dudes 😉

But I did learn what was going on!  Apparently it was a PRACTICE parade!  Only in New Orleans would they have a practice parade J.  Later in the day, I was talking to another tourist who had also seen the practice parade.  As he astutely pointed out, this way they get to party TWICE for the same occasion 😉

It certainly got my trip off to a roaring start.  And I had free beads as souvenirs!

Once I had dispensed with the practice parade, I took a long, meandering tour of the Quarter and tried to take some photos to add to these posts.  Unfortunately for you, my camera is brand new so I am still learning.  Next time I am in New Orleans, the photos will be better 😉

I definitely learned that the first few sleazy blocks of Bourbon Street I had encountered my first night were not really New Orleans at all.  There was a tremendous amount of serendipity on this trip – and only wonderful encounters with strangers – so I ended up at the French Market without even consulting my map.

It’s the original Native American trading post, later used by the French and the Spanish to trade all sorts of cool stuff between the colonies and fancy Europe.  Now it’s filled mostly with junk made in China or Bangladesh but it’s still fun and festive to wander through.  And there are some gems if you look for them.  My favourite souvenir came from my second visit to the French Market – but that’s part of another tale…

The most intriguing thing I saw at the market was alligator!  Alligator heads, alligator on a stick, alligator bites… luckily no one walking an

gators and masks

gators and masks

alligator on a leash.  I wasn’t hungry at the time so haven’t tried it.  But learned as the days went on that it is really big in Louisiana and I will definitely have to check it out on the next visit…

http://www.frenchmarket.org/history/

I figured then that I was close to the river so wandered in that direction and there it was – the mighty Mississippi.  As dirty looking as I expected.  I grew up due north of the Mississippi and, as a child, I dreamed of taking a steamboat the length of it.  I did read a lot of Mark Twain 🙂

For now I was just going to settle for two hours on a steamboat – but I wanted to find it to be prepared for the next day.  Once I reached the river, my steamboat was easy to spot.

But first I spotted a lone gentleman playing a West African drum.  I took a photo of him and his music was really good so I thought I should give

the mighty mississippi!

the mighty mississippi!

him a tip.  It was money well spent.  We ended up having a conversation and I found out he was from Ghana.

I also found out he was a good guy.  Some young men came by and chatted with him while I was there.  Apparently one of them had lost his ID and the Ghanaian drummer had found it and gone to great trouble to get it back to him.  He’d done the same for some drunken teacher during Mardi Gras.  It really seemed to be the spirit of the place.  If you were standing on the street and looked a bit quizzical, someone would be checking if you needed assistance.  You hardly even needed a map 🙂

So, we’ve made it to the Mississippi!  Lots more happened that day.  I got to bed about 5am!  But we will let the stories unfold in themes.  New Orleans is a place for storytelling so I will do my best to reveal it like a good story.

To circle back to my questions… there is definitely a pretty, surreal, Disney vibe to the French Quarter.  There is a lot of music in New Orleans.  It’s not all jazz but you can find jazz (and I did!) but what is more delightful is the many varied musical styles you will stumble across just wandering the streets.  There is no shortage of charm in the men of Louisiana – and they have that delectable accent… 😉

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