Suddenly it seems that my time in New Orleans is drawing to a close. With only 6 weeks left in the city, I realized that there was so much I still had yet to do before I move. So many places I haven’t seen, bucket list items not yet accomplished, and things I still have to eat! Thankfully a dear friend from Disney World came to visit me this week over her Spring Break, bringing with her another very well traveled friend, and together we were able to accomplish quite a lot of things in the short span of only four days.
The girls arrived bright and early Sunday morning, Easter Sunday. Our first stop was to go to Easter mass at St. Louis cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter. The problem with that particular choice for Easter mass was the sheer fact that it was in the French Quarter, a place that I do not drive through on principle. Aside from the fact that parking is slim (and expensive once you do find it), the streets are narrow and filled with oblivious tourists. So rather than drive into the city, we decided to take another form of transportation (and check off one item from my bucket list): we took a streetcar! Though I don’t live anywhere near a streetcar line, I do live fairly close to City Park. And in City Park there is an art museum with free parking, and in front of the museum is a streetcar stop that goes all the way to the river. It was perfect. Well, nearly perfect. We still had a little walking to do, and of course Sunday proved to be a very wet day, in true New Orleans fashion.
After mass it seemed that the rain had mostly stopped, so we walked across the street to Cafe Du Monde for some man-catchin’ beignets. I forgot just how good they were! It’s been a while since I’ve had Cafe Du Monde’s beignets, and I was reminded how silly I was to buy them from any other cafe in town. We took our beignets up to the river and sat and watched the boats go by while we ate. Then we went for a walk to burn off some of those calories, since we still had brunch reservations! After acquainting the girls a bit with some New Orleans history and culture, and walk down Bourbon Street, we headed over to brunch. Our reservations were at Nola, one of the restaurants owned by Emeril Lagasse, so it marked for me the first time I had ever eaten at a celebrity chef restaurant. I must admit that the food was quite tasty. Between the three of us, we had a muffaletta, an omelet with fresh crabmeat, fried boudin, and delicious crabcakes. And of course, mimosas. Is it really brunch without mimosas?
With no real goals left for the day, we walked blissfully through the Quarter. We walked along the river, wandered into shops, and caught up on each others’ recent adventures before getting on the streetcar and heading back to City Park. I asked them about things that they were eager to do while they were here in the city, and they confided that a visit to the bayou was definitely a major bucket list item. So we found a bayou tour that included a guided boat ride and promised personal encounters with wildlife, and we signed up for the tour the following day.
Our tour with Airboat Adventures did not disappoint! They offered a bus pickup service from the city, but when I mentioned that I was a local they informed us that driving ourselves would give us a discounted price. All about that discount (and freedom), we jumped at the opportunity. Our boat ride lasted nearly an hour and a half, and yet it still felt like only five minutes. The leisurely ride through the bayou was truly a breath of fresh air. It was enough to make all the troubles of the world pass away. We did see many gators, as promised, and we even got to feed some. Apparently gators are attracted to marshmallows. Who knew? And our tour guide even brought along a special treat: a pet baby alligator for us to meet! He was passed around the boat, and for the first time in my life I got to hold an alligator. Yes, I’m from Florida and have lived my entire life without touching a gator.
Isn’t he cute? He was much softer than I expected. And very chill. He obviously was well adjusted to humans. At the end of our tour, our tour guide mentioned that crawfish was in season and that there was a wonderful restaurant up the road that served very fresh seafood. It was a perfect suggestion as we were all starving, and fresh bayou seafood sounded like the best idea. Again, we were not disappointed. Perino’s Boiling Pot far exceeded our expectations. We again ordered three things to split: fried stuffed crabs, fried shrimp, and fried alligator. I don’t think I have ever tasted fresher seafood in all my life! The shrimp tasted like they had just been caught this morning (and they were huge!), and the stuffed crab was absolutely bursting with flavors. The gator was very good as well. It’s not my favorite dish but I do enjoy it, but it seemed appropriate for my California friends to try some after being out on the bayou.
The evening was still young, so I drove them up to Lake Ponchartrain just in time for sunset. From one body of water to another, the girls were enthralled. We wandered along the edge of the lake, talking to a few local fisherman about their catch that day before finally stopping as the sun dipped below the water. On several occasions I have seen the sunset while driving across the causeway that stretches over the lake, and as I told my friends, I have never been disappointed by a sunset over that lake. Thankfully this sunset did not prove me wrong, and the sky and water was absolutely ablaze with light and color. None of our pictures could do it justice, and it was a perfect finale to our second day.
After such a fun day out on the water, we decided that it was only appropriate for three former Disney cast members to watch “Princess and the Frog” when we got home. It was definitely cool to watch it after our touristy exploration, as we were able to pick out many major landmarks in the city and say that we had been there.
For our third day, we decided to go on another great excursion. They asked if it were possible to visit a plantation, however I knew that most plantations were pretty far outside the city limits. And sadly it seemed that most preserved plantations were merely used for wedding venues, not for their historical merit. We did manage to find a place that at least according to the internet would make for a good visit, so we drove out to Destrehan to see the Destrehan Plantation. Again, my doubts were immediately washed away when we drove up to the beautiful mansion and were met with a tour guide in a period-appropriate costume.
We could have spent hours there learning all of the history and exploring every inch of the property, but sadly I had to return to the real world as I had one afternoon class to attend, and with that Spring Break was over for me. We drove back into the city as our stomachs started growling, but we didn’t have much time to stop for lunch. We decided we needed to get something quick, so I took them to the best fast-food place in New Orleans: Raising Cane’s. I warned them that there were only four things on the menu, but that they would surely not be disappointed. The cashiers were excited to learn that they had two brand new guests who had never tried their food, and they were very helpful and patient. When they finally got the chance to try that glorious fried chicken and Cane’s sauce, they understood why I was so excited about some fast food.
After my class was over I showed them the famous Mardi Gras tree on Tulane’s campus, and while they were marveling at its beauty I whipped out a bit of Disney-style magic. I pulled from my backpack three strands of Mardi Gras beads, and I asked if they would like to contribute to the artwork. They eagerly accepted.
Then we headed to find another New Orleans culinary favorite: snowballs! Of course everyone has had shaved ice, but New Orleans likes to do them a bit differently with cream based flavors and condensed milk on top. I brought them to Plum Street Snowballs, the oldest snowball stand in the country, before heading home to cook up some jambalaya and friend green tomatoes.
Our last day we split ways for a bit. I had two morning classes, so I dropped the girls off at the streetcar and they rode into the French Quarter while I was in class, and I met up with them afterwards. They had already eaten, so I grabbed a quick bite at Antoine’s Annex, a small pastry and sandwich place owned by the oldest family-run restaurant in the country (it’s still on my bucket list to eat at the actual Antoine’s restaurant). We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets and listening to street musicians, and we grabbed a few more beignets before leaving to head to the airport.
All in all, the trip went better than I could have planned. We were able to accomplish so much stuff, eat such a variety of Louisiana staples, and really experience so much of the culture. For the first time I really felt like a local. I don’t think I realized just how much I had allowed the culture to seep into my soul until I found myself explaining the subtle nuances in New Orleanian life and really understanding it. The girls were amazed that I had only just moved here in August, because they said it seemed like I had lived here all my life. It really does feel like that, I suppose. I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to call myself a New Orleanian, but I know that a part of this city will be with me forever. From its flavors to its spirit, New Orleans is truly a unique place in the world and I am glad that I have been able to call it home.