VISITING "THE BIG EASY"



MONDAY

TRAVEL DAY
YEAR #3 - STOP #4



I must say we received a very well attended "welcome back" into the state of Louisiana. Within just a few minutes of us getting THE POD all set up in it's new home at Fontainebleau State Park we had no less than seven deer greet us at our front door.


We have positioned ourselves here on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain so we can make at least three visits into the city of New Orleans this week. As you can see in the map below there are two route options for getting into the city.

First is traveling on Interstate Highway #12 & #10, the second is traveling over the 23.83 mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway which cuts right through the middle of the lake.

We learned an interesting fact about the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. If you travel south, into the city, there is a $5.00 toll. But if you travel north, out of the city, there is no toll. So each morning we will of course take the Interstate route and then return home using the causeway.

Two options for a trip to The Big Easy


One more thing we did before getting ready for bed
was to book tickets onboard the open air double decker busses of
I found a 10% off promo code online and so for a little under $100.00 we have our 3-day tour transportation with two walking tours included. The walking tours are 45-minutes and less than a mile long. One will highlight The Garden District and the other will be in The French Quarter.



TUESDAY - DAY 1 in NOLA

As we usually do when visiting a big city tourist destination like New Orleans for the first time, we take a narrated trolly tour to familiarize ourselves with what the city offers. Today we made it just in time to board the first trolly of the day at Stop #1 at 9:30AM.

The trolly route has 19 hop-on hop-off stops and requires about two hours to complete a full loop. With the overnight temperatures hovering in the low 30s and mid-morning temperatures still in the mid 40s, we braved the cold and rode most of the first loop on the open air upper deck of the bus. IT WAS COLD! But at least it was clear and sunny.

We hopped off the trolly at Stop #1 around 11:30AM and went in search of restrooms, coffee and hot chocolate, in that order. Café Beignet (est. 1990) was just a few doors down the street and fulfilled all those requirements. We also tried something else we want to savor while in New Orleans, a French donut called a beignet. As you can suspect, it was delicious, but we knocked off at least half of the powdered sugar before eating.


Next up we wanted to stretch our legs a little so we strolled through all six blocks of the French Market. Inside the French Market you can find fresh produce, food and drink, and of course all types of souvenirs. Down one side, back up the other, and when we were done we were ready for some lunch.


Just a block away from the French Market is Coop's Place (est. 1983), a petite 12' x 60' restaurant with some reasonably priced awesome food. Being located in The French Quarter and a stone's throw away from The Mississippi River, we felt it was the perfect place for our first authentic New Orleans meal.

It's now time to knock off several items from our "When in New Orleans" bucket list. I ordered a cup of Coop's Seafood Gumbo and a bowl of their Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya. Tricia sampled their Blackened Redfish Poboy. Everything we ordered at Coop's Place was delicious and the service was outstanding.


After lunch we hopped on the bus at Stop #2 and rode it around to Stop #5. We've been riding around so far by just showing an email on my phone that proves I paid for tickets. But it's time to get official paper tickets to show the bus drivers and Stop #5 is where that's done. Also located at Stop #5 is the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, we hope to visit it later this week.

With our printed tickets in hand we reboarded the next bus and as luck would have it we finally got a guide who was not only informative but entertaining. We've learned that if you're just using the bus as transportation around town it's very expensive, but with the right guide narrating your ride it makes it all worth the price. We liked this guide so well we rode the bus all the way around to Stop #1 again.

When we hopped off the bus it was 3:05PM and we had just missed the last walking tour of the day for The French Quarter. We saw the small crowd of people nearby listening to a guide on Jackson Square and figured we just join in late for the tour. There were already several dozen people in the group and it was hard hearing the guide while she spoke so we decided to try again the next day.

One last look at Jackson Square before we head home

We decided to end our first day visit to New Orleans a little early and beat the traffic leaving the city. But before we left we tried the beignets at Café Du Monde (est. 1862). While this café most deservedly has all the history and receives all the hype, we much preferred the atmosphere and beignets at the much smaller Café Beignet located just two blocks down the street.



WEDNESDAY - DAY 2 in NOLA

Today we were on the road to New Orleans an hour earlier than yesterday. Today we're having a special breakfast treat at Stanley's of New Orleans.

Normally when we are somewhere that originated a special dish we like to experience it at the original location. The desert, Bananas Foster, was created at Brennan's Restaurant in the 1950s. However, Brennan's is not our kind of place or within our budget, their Steak and Egg Breakfast is $38 and dinner jackets and ties are considered normal (but not mandatory for breakfast) dining attire.

So what are we going to do about tasting an authentic New Orleans sample of Bananas Foster? At nearby Stanley's of New Orleans Restaurant they offer a Bananas Foster French Toast breakfast for a more reasonable price of $14.00 and I can assure you it was worth every penny of that price. Tricia opted for their Eggs Acadiana, which consists of poached eggs, Acadian bacon and creole hollandaise on toasted french bread for a modest $10.00 charge. It too was worth every penny!

Breakfast at Stanley's of New Orleans


Now that are tummies are full be can get about our business of sightseeing. We hopped on the bus once again at Stop #1 at 9:30AM and rode it all the way around to the Garden District at Stop #12. We arrived with just enough time to use the restrooms at Starbucks across the street, pick up some Hot Chocolate and Coffee, then meetup with the tour guide back out on the street corner. It is here that the 11:00AM Garden District Walking Tour begins.

Even though we had nearly thirty people in our tour the guide had a very loud speaking voice and she was easy to hear, even over the city sounds and traffic noise. The homes in this area of New Orleans all go for well over a million dollars and their are several well known celebrities whose main residence is located here.

The home of Academy Award Winning Best Actress Sandra Bullock

The home of Golden Globe Award Winning Best Actor John Goodman

This next home is owned by who is arguably the third best NFL quarterback in his family. In this front yard is where he taught his sons Peyton and Eli to throw a football. The oldest son Cooper was a standout wide receiver in high school where he caught passes thrown by his younger brother Peyton. In case you haven't guessed by now, this home is owned by the 1971 NFL first round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints, Archie Manning.

The home of NFL quarterback Archie Manning


After all that walking we were getting hungry. Just six blocks from where we were standing is a restaurant that serves what is hailed as one of the best Muffaletta Sandwiches in New Orleans. The Cochon Butcher occupies a revitalized warehouse which is part of the CBD (Central Business District). Tricia ordered the Muffaletta and I ordered the Cajun Pork Dog, not only does this establishment smoke and butcher their own meats on site they make their own potato chips.

One other item we have been seeing all over town are pralines. Since they have bacon topped pralines here we decided to try one. I'm not sure I liked the whole Sweet & Salty mixture, but I bet I would have enjoyed a simple sweet one.

Lunch at the Cochon Butcher Restaurant

While walking back to the tour bus stop we passed by this odd looking building. We later learned that up until 1981 this was the restaurant that was located at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. It was disassembled and replaced with a much smaller and lighter restaurant.

The old structure was stored with no immediate plans for it's future. Then a famous French chef in New Orleans paid 1.5 million dollars to have it shipped to New Orleans and reconstructed on the Famous St. Charles Avenue. The restaurant opened on Thanksgiving Day 1986 but three years later was closed.

Several others tried making a go of it as a restaurant but eventually it was turned into a special event space (i.e. weddings and such) and a museum known as The Eiffel Society.

The Eiffel Society building


With lunch taken care of it's time to hop back on the bus and head for The French Quarter for our second walking tour of the day. Back at Stop #1 we hopped off the bus and walked over to the location of the starting point of the walking tour. We arrived in plenty of time for the 3:00PM last tour of the day.

At 3:15PM I walked into the little office and gift shop there and asked if the 3:00PM tour was cancelled. They told me the tour operator was running late from the previous tour and assured me she would arrive soon. There were only six other people waiting to take the 3:00PM tour with us so I was anxious to get started before more showed up.

Five minutes later a 70+ year old woman walks up and says she's ready to start the tour. We all gathered round her and she began the tour by walking across the street and found a quiet spot at the edge of Jackson Square. Her storytelling skills were excellant, although her voice was very soft and hard to hear. I'm now glad we weren't in a larger tour group.

Jackson Square on a gloomy overcast day

Sadly all that's left of the original cobblestone walkways

Tricia commented that she reminded her of her grandmother's storytelling and that brought a smile to her face. We walked all around Jackson Square and eventually ended up at the quaint Place d'Armes Hotel that was under a mild renovation. We heard stories of ghostly hauntings and got a behind the scenes look at their very private interior courtyard and pool area that is completely surrounded by the hotel.

The interior courtyard of Place d'Armes Hotel in the French Quarter


We both felt the walking tours were nice, but we also felt that we were glad they were included free with our 3-day bus ticket. I don't think either tour would have been worth the $25 per person price tag if we had paid full retail for it.

With the walking tour over we were so close to the famous Bourbon Street that we just had to go take a quick look. It was just after 4:30PM on a Wednesday and the partying wasn't into full swing yet, so it was a good time for us to visit.

We walked just a couple of blocks down Bourbon Street and it reminded me of a lot of lower Duval Street in Key West, a place I have been to many times, with the bars and restaurants continuously lining both sides of the narrow street. We snapped a few photos of some of the Mardi Gras decorations and started walking back to the truck.

Mardi Gras decorations on Bourbon Street

More Mardi Gras decorations on Bourbon Street


Once off of Bourbon Street we made a last minute decision to eat dinner in town before returning to THE POD. Without researching anywhere to eat in this area we rolled the dice and stopped in at The Gumbo Shop Restaurant on our route back to the truck.

Tricia ordered the Fresh Catish Florentine and I ordered a cup of gumbo and the special offering of Louisiana Gator Sausage. While Tricia did enjoyed the fish portion of her meal the florentine was lacking. I enjoyed the gator sausage with creole mustard, but the gumbo was surprisingly not as good as I expected. All in all, it was the first New Orleans meal that was just OK and not spectacular like we have come to expect. So much for rolling the dice!



FRIDAY - DAY 3 in NOLA

We took Thursday off of sightseeing because the weather was forecast to rain most of the day and it did. We forfeited our third day of hop on hop off bus service, but that's not important to our plans for today.

This time we parked on the far edge of the French Quarter, away from the Mississippi riverfront bars and restaurants, at the Basin Street Station Welcome Center. By the way, it was only $5 for all day parking here and not $20 like the riverfront parking lots.

We're starting today by visiting the oldest, and some say the most hauted, cemetery in New Orleans. Located right next door to the Welcome Station, it's called the St. Louis Cemetery #1 (est. 1789) and is the final resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (1801-1881). It is also to be the final resting place for actor Nicolas Cage, who has purchased a plot and constructed a rather unique tomb for himself.

Nicolas Cage's pyramid tomb

St. Louis Cemetery #1

Just as in Key West the dead are interred above ground, rather than buried below ground like most everywhere else. It is for the same reason, both cities are just a few feet above sea level and you just can't dig a hole around here without it filling in with water.

Unlike Key West, where I believe that once your tomb is filled with coffins it is sealed up permanently, or they just start stacking them on top of each other, in New Orleans the practice is to enclose the dead in temporary coffins that are not meant to preseve the bodies. Most tombs here are owned by families, where everyone is interred together.

This is how it was explained to us.

A person dies, they are placed in their temporary coffin and interred into their family tomb. When the next family member passes away the tomb is opened, the remains are removed from the casket and placed back into the tomb. They are then pushed to the back of the tomb with a very long handled broom into a cavity that is designed to be filled with the bones and non perishable items placed on the bodies. This is where we get the old saying, "I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole".

The tomb is then resealed and awaits the next family member. The only rule is that the tomb can only be opened once every 366 days (a year and a day), to give the body enough time to decompose. So if two family members pass away too close together they have to wait in a rented space at the cemetery.

Some of the tombs are 230 years old and contain nearly 100 family members. Some tombs are owned by social clubs and intern members for a fee. Some tombs contain mutiple families when the original family sells the tomb to new owners. Let's just say there are a lot more bodies here than you'd expect for such a small space.

By the way the only way to get a look inside the cemetery is with a guided tour. There was so much vandalism and robery that the church closed the cemetery to the public. Of course owners are permitted to visit loved ones for free. Our cost was $15 each with a $5 discount for having Hop On Hop Off Bus tickets.


Next up on our sightseeing agenda for today is Mardi Gras World. This is the local company that creates and warehouses nearly 90% of the floats you see in the parades. They not only do Mardi Gras themed items here, they are responsible for creating every single 3D Chick-fil-A cow that you see in the restaurants or on billboards.

Lucky for us they also continuously run two free shuttle busses around New Orleans that will pick you up and return you to several dozen locations in the city. One of those locations happens to be the Welcome Center where we are currently at. Tickets for the Mardi Gras World tours are $22 plus a $2 discount for handing them the coupon located on the back of their rack brochures that are located all over town.

Me waiting with a few new friends for the tour to begin.

An artist at work

Another artist hard at work

One of many floats being prepared for this year's Mardi Gras Parades

It used to be everything was made out of fiberglass, but that made displays very heavy and very expensive. Today's process involves lots of paper mâché overlaid on cut and glued styrofoam. Then it is spray painted and sealed to weatherproof everything. This process also makes everything reusable by just cutting items apart, regluing them together, more paper mâché and then repainting them so they appear nothing like they originally did. This new process is very cost effective, enviromentally friendly and it also gives the artists more ways to be creative.

Now that the tour is over we are going to take advantage of the free shuttle to have them drop us off at Harrah's Casino, just two blocks from where we want to eat lunch. Pretty smart move on our part, wouldn't you say?


From the time we arrived in New Orleans everything we've read and everyone we've talked to has said the same thing, "Don't leave New Orleans without tasting the baked ham at Mother's Restaurant". Seemed strange that it's not your typical New Orleans cuisine, but we heard it so many times we just had to find out what it's all about. We were so glad we did!

The Baked Ham at Mother's Restaurant is just as advertised, WORLD'S BEST! It is so lean, juicy and tender, while not being the least bit salty. Our small plate of ham set us back $6.50 but honestly, it was worth twice that!

Tricia ordered their Famous Ferdi Special, which is a po' boy with their baked ham, roast beef and au jus gravy on a French bun. I ordered the Side of Baked Ham with the Crawfish Étouffée which also did not disappoint. The restaurant is not fancy, you walk in the door and are handed a menu, you wait in line to order and pay for your food, an employee comes by your table, takes your receipt and then just a few minutes later your delicious food arrives at your table. Very fast and very efficient, just they way most prople like it when on vacation. This was probably our favorite lunch during our visit.

Simple and delicious, just the way we like it!


After our delicious lunch at Mother's we walked out the door and just a few blocks away we were able to board one of the Famous Streetcars of the St. Charles Avenue Line. Each one of these 1923 green/crimson streetcars are registered as a National Historic Landmark. It takes a little less than an hour to ride the route end to end, and that's just what we did, twice. We paid just $3 each for an all day ticket that includes unlimited rides on all the streetcars and all the city busses, probably the best deal in town.

Photo courtesy of New Orleans Regional Transit Authority website.

The updated and restored interior of our streetcar, complete with driver.

We were so busy having a good time we forgot to take an exterior streetcar picture of our own while getting on and off.


One end of the St. Charles Line butts up against one end of Bourbon Street, so that's were we got off. On the very first block of Bourbon Street we stopped to listen to this funky little band of street performers.

Quite entertaining and talented sextet on Bourbon Street

I foolishly got the idea maybe we could find a nice little club, where we could maybe have one drink, listen to a little lite jazz and rest our feet for a while before heading back to the truck. Well that didn't happen!

On Bourbon Street all we saw and heard were loud rowdy crowds, karaoke, rock and roll music and numerous drink specials. I'm not saying the quiet little bar doesn't exist, it's just that we didn't find one on our walk down Bourbon Street.

We later found out near the far end of the 12 block long Bourbon Street is Frenchmen Street. That's were the atmosphere that we were seeking is located. Live and learn I guess!



I thought about not sharing the following information and photo on this blog but it was a part of our New Orleans experience. Last year on October 19th the Hard Rock Cafe construction site had a masive failure. The upper floors collapsed killing two workers under the rubble. Today, more than three months later, they have yet figured out a way to safely recover the bodies. The roads have been closed off around the entire block of the construction site for fear of further collapse.

Local speculation is saying that some cost-cutting solutions may be to blame for the incident. We hope that someday the victim's families will receive both the truth and fair compensation for what happened. In this day and age, that's not likely to occur.

Hard Rock Cafe collapse last October


So ends our third and final visit into The Big Easy.




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6 comments:

  1. Wow! That was a lot of info! I loved it! Extremely fascinating about the cemetery. I had no idea that's where '10 foot pole' came from. And I had always wondered what they did about all the parade stuff...very cool!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hey Beth
      The Mardi Gras World warehouse that we toured through was just one of a dozen or more around town that store and work on the floats among other things.

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  2. It almost feels like I am tired. All the food and adventure is on my bucket list. So nice reading this report!��

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    Replies
    1. We sure did enjoy all the New Orleans cuisine. We were able to check off every single item from our bucket list but feel like there is so much that we missed we'll have to go back someday.

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  3. Sounds like a great time! Your friend would be proud of all you saw and learned about NoLa.

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    Replies
    1. We sure could have used a personal tour guide, maybe next time my friend will be able to visit.

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