Posted by Bob Greenberger on May 23, 2012
Continuing reporting on our vacation to New Orleans…
We continued to explore the city and then took a lunchtime cruise aboard the Natchez, a steam paddleboat that took us out on the mighty Mississippi river. We travelled only a few miles, seeing naval vessels, boats loaded with cargo, oil refineries, and a sugar factory. Deb enjoyed the sights, I found it somewhat disappointing. The lunch was a nice buffet accompanied with a Dixie jazz band which played some nice music as we cruised.
Once back on land, we continued to walk and wound up exploring the Preservation Hall at 50 exhibit at the Old Mint museum at the end of the French Market area.
Our day continued with a twilight walking tour of the French Quarter, conducted by Glenn, who was born and raised in that party of the city. He was extremely knowledgeable, debunking some of the legends, telling us new ones. Glenn was strong in his opinions so we were told which restaurants to avoid and which he loved, freely giving recommendations. One stop was at the home where William Faulkner wrote his first novel – I never knew he lived in New Orleans although I did know Tennessee Williams was there and we saw his home, too. It was a very good tour.
Based on Glenn’s recommendation we sought a restaurant for dinner but there was a wait and the menu was not as advertised so we wandered some more until we settled at Stanley’s an eclectic place on the square. The food was filling and good.
We strolled some more, stopping here and there to listen to some of the music. There was a wide variety and our bad luck was that we wound up stopping at places just as sets were finishing or performers changing. Still, we liked what we heard and found, most often, that the jazz at Café Beignet, on Bourbon, was an oasis from the madness as the street got rowdier by the day. This night in particular was made more complicated as part of the street was blocked off for the shooting of a scene for the new season of True Blood. We round a corner, get shoved off to the side and pause to watch as extras partied down the block followed by Eric Northman himself. Alexander Saarsgard strutted, bared his fangs, and roared with delight. The fans clogging the sidewalks were beside themselves in delight. As they reset to shoot a fresh take, we moved along, finding refuge in a bar for some bluegrass.
For a change of pace, we booked a walking tour in the Garden District that would take us through one of the storied cemeteries and past the fine homes. The company’s business model was that the tour was free and we could pay what we thought it was worth at the end. Our guide, Sarah, was the owner and operator and her affection for the city was palpable. The cemetery was spacious and densely packed with bodies as we were told how the above ground tombs worked as incinerators, using the Louisiana heat to quickly decompose the bodies, making room for more loved ones as needed.
From there, we walked through the district, looking at homes that were built with different styles, learning more of the history. We passed where John Goodman and Sandra Bullock maintain residences, hearing stories of celebrities that have been welcomed by the community, such as these two, and those that were not. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, happy to hear more of the city’s rich history. Between Sarah and Glenn we got the notion that the city embraced not only its heritage but its long history of corruption, taking it in stride and proud of the schemes that kept New Orleans unique.
We strolled over to Magazine Street which is a long block filled with shops and restaurants and had a nice lunch outdoors before exploring a long stretch of the street. We only went into one, a cavernous antique store where we bought a few items, our first real souvenirs of the trip. The remainder of the stores were interesting but unmemorable and the heat began to get to us. Finally, we sought the trolley, stopping to let Deb admire another church. Once back in town, we made a beeline to Stanley’s for ice cream. Few shops make their own and finding ice cream shops was not as easy as one would think given the heat.
That night, we dressed up a bit and headed over to a Bourbon street hotel and Irving Mayfield’s Jazz club. We lingered over an appetizer-only dinner and drinks as the Adonis Rose Quartet played their salute to John Coltrane. The day before, we were advised to come early, which we did, and sure enough, by the time the music started, the placed was and remained packed. The band was good and after the first set, a woman next me proclaimed with pride that her son, one of the band, had just graduated with his master’s degree.
Our last full day in town. With every passing day, our feet gave out before we did, requiring us slowing the pace and taking frequent breaks. It was to be an easy final day as Deb went to church then we took the trolley back to the garden district and brunch at the Columns Hotel, another of Aaron’s recommendations. They seemed overwhelmed with the extra people for graduation so the service was not all it should have been with long waits between actions, from being seated on the front porch to being served the entrée. Still, the food was pretty good and the jazz guitarist was a nice change of pace.
After we ate, we took a walk, thinking we’d visit the World War II museum but given that there was just 2 hours before it closed and the steep admission price, we checked out the lobby and left. We took a different line and was deposited along the river and wandered through Riverwalk, which was basically a mall designed to occupy people coming or going to the various cruise ships that made port here. There was a comic shop mixed in with the upscale stories, which was a nice surprise.
We finished there and headed back to the hotel for a break before heading out once more. By this point, every so often Mr. B’s Bistro came up in conversation. After returning the rental car, we were stopped by one of their waiters who spotted my Mets game and asked about Citi Field, which he would visit next summer. Our tour guides mentioned it. We walked past it repeatedly and Yelp had it high on their recommendation list. We tried to call for reservations only to be told the only ones they had were too early. Later, as we waited for a trolley, two couples had the same idea and Deb had to give them the bad news. Still, we decided to see if we could grab a table and walked over. The large, bustling place put us on a list and we sidled over to the bar, lingering over drinks for half an hour. When we were seated, we finally understood the fascination. The service was good and the food better. Deb had a delicious rabbit in sumptuous brown gravy while I had the signature dish: barbecue shrimp. It was some effort to peel each jumbo piece but it was worth the messy effort.
Stuffed and satisfied, we strolled one final time through the Quarter. Sunday night seems to be when the city catches its breath. Newcomers are just getting here and finding their way. The energy on Bourbon Street was present but subdued. It had cooled enough to be really pleasant and we could walk and soak it all up. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped one more time at Café Beignet, catching the final few songs of the evening.
Once more it was up and out early. With the lengthy layover in Chicago, our trip home took nearly 12 hours from hotel to Fairfield. The rain didn’t help and the rush hour trip through Connecticut was excruciatingly slow but we tried to retain the Zen feeling of calm the trip gave us. We returned to town, stopped for groceries and finally went home. Upon returning, it was a quick dose of reality as there was a stack of mail, a dead robin stuck in a window, and the discovery that our shower developed a leak. Before we could even unpack, the phone began ringing as people called, hoping to chat now that we were back. We weren’t quite ready for that, instead settling for some pizza and television to ease back into the routine.
Overall, it was an amazing experience and the city has been placed on the Must Return to Visit list.
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