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New Orleans Trip 2013

I really have to share.  I'm still digging New Orleans, you guys!  Obviously, I have to blog about it.  I took a ton of pictures and figured I should share some here.  Let's just say that I went to all the most-talked-about-and-important places.  Naturally, a lot of them are food-related, because heck, a girl's gotta eat sometime.  So let's get this party rolling.

Warning: This is a pic-heavy post.  It's mostly my fault because I should just make collages to make the photos more compact, but it's a long story and I can't do anything about that now.  Just so ya know...

Before I get started, I just want to mention that I'm a planner.  I spent a ton of time perusing TripAdvisor to find out the best places to go and things to do.  I also relied upon recommendations from friends and the hotel concierge.

OK, now let's do it.

I rolled into the Big Easy early last Wednesday and promptly checked into the J.W. Marriott on the edge of the Central Business District.  The Marriott was literally across the street from the edge of the French Quarter, so I decided to begin to get a lay of the land.  I was also starving and needed to fuel up before a 2.5 hour French Quarter walking cocktail tour.  Yeah, you heard that right.  Food was a necessity, not an option.

It was a slightly rainy afternoon but I got a few pics of the architecture in the French Quarter.  This pic was my favorite since it was the first time I saw the famed New Orleans balconies in person.  There are lots more of these types of photos, but I'll spare you the rest of those.

I stopped by Pierre Maspero's and ordered the grillades & grits with a side of jambalaya.  Oh my.  I housed the entire plate of food below.  The jambalaya was alright, but this was really the star.  Grillades is a traditional New Orleans favorite.  It involves the slow cooking of meat (in this case, beef) with wine and vegetables.  The meat is served over grits and it was tied as one of the best dishes I ate while I was there.  Talk about striking gold immediately.  Of course this was paired with an Abita Amber, one of the city's most popular brews.

Let's take another look at that, shall we?

After lunch, I definitely needed a stroll.  I walked through historic Jackson Square, which is a nearby park.  A lot of New Orleans really reminds me of being in Nassau.  The old world architecture and historic parks are really similar.  There is a lot of Caribbean influence in this area, so I guess it shouldn't be that surprising.  Also, humidity much?  Yes.  Especially post-rain.

What is this I spy?  Cafe du Monde was on the other side of Jackson Square!  I was still full from lunch (which ended about 15 minutes prior to this discovery), but I made sure to pick up a cafe au lait to go.

Around this time, I got a call that my walking tour had been cancelled for the day because I was the only person signed up for it.  Since the walking tour was my only activity planned for that evening, I figured I'd get the "shopping for gifts" portion of the trip out of the way.  Cafe du Monde is right next to the French Markets, which is an assortment of stores selling touristy items.  I picked up a shirt for my sister, a mask for my nephew and "pretty faces" (ceramic painted masks) for myself and my mom.

I walked around a bit more, but by this time I was exhausted and returned to the hotel for a nap. Then I pretty much passed out for the rest of the night, with the exception of walking across the street to pick up dinner.  Traveling is tiring!

Side note: I was able to see both the sunset AND sunrise from my room.  That was pretty cool.

Sunset

Sunset

Sunrise over the Mississippi River!

Sunrise over the Mississippi River!

The next morning, I was up early to have breakfast at the Degas House.  Edgar Degas was a famous French impressionist painter whose mother and grandmother lived in New Orleans.  Tours are offered daily and last about 2.5 hours.

Since this house is a bed and breakfast, there is also the option of showing up early for breakfast before taking the 10:30am tour.  Let me just say that you should definitely choose the French Toast breakfast option.  The french toast was covered with a bananas foster syrup and was served with a side of eggs, pork patties, and fruit.  Coffee, tea, toast, muffins and yogurt were also offered.  The setup was cute and reminded me of eating in my grandparents house in the Bahamas when I was younger.  I made friends with the two families who were staying in the rooms upstairs and we got to chatting before they joined me on the house tour.  Unfortunately, no one is allowed to take pictures of the inside of the house since they're trying to preserve it so I have no pics for you, but you can check out their website for professional pictures.

A few fun facts:

1) Degas was the only known impressionist painter to have visited America and he stayed for some time in this house.

2) The houses above actually used to be one house when Degas stayed here.  Later on, they were separated to create two houses.

3)  Degas' great-grand-niece gave the tour!

Once I was done with the excellent tour, I took a cab to Cafe du Monde because I was getting hungry and I needed those beignets!

Cafe du Monde only sells beignets and beverages (cafe au lait and coffee drinks being the most popular).  If you want to do something well, you gotta focus I guess.

The view from my table

The view from my table

The beignets only come in orders of three.  I had to restrain myself from digging right in.  I also had to take pictures, of course.  These beignets came right out of the fryer because they were about 100 degrees F under all that powdered sugar.  But you can be certain that I didn't care and obviously ended up burning the roof of my mouth while eating these.  Not the smartest thing I've ever done but sometimes you do what you gotta do.

After my snack/lunch, I walked around the quarter again and found my way over to Bourbon Street.  Oh Bourbon Street.  You were a little too intense for me even at 3 in the afternoon.  I couldn't imagine the hell being raised here during Mardi Gras!

As I was walking around, I started hearing live music so I quickly found the source: The New Orleans Musical Legends Park.

I kept trying to get a good pic of this place but this guy ended up in.every.shot...

In the back, you can sort of see a roof and an archway for Cafe Beignet.  I ordered gumbo and a frozen boozy daiquiri there.  The daiquiri was way too sweet and not really boozy at all, but the gumbo was pretty good.  Steamboat Willie was playing and he and the band were pretty good.  It was a nice little stop on my adventure around town.

Gumbo

Gumbo

Steamboat Willie

Steamboat Willie

Not gonna lie, after this I needed a nap.  Again!  I ventured back out later in the evening to catch a few dueling piano sets at Pat O'Brien's.

Right next door to Pat O'Brien's is Preservation Hall.  This is a musical venue known for its authentic New Orleans jazz.  I heard the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in NYC back in February and they actually inspired my whole trip to New Orleans!

I wish they had been playing Thursday night, but the Newbirth Brass Band was playing instead.  The 8pm set had a line of people waiting to get in by 7:30pm!  There are about 50 seats inside and then some standing room in the back.  I made it inside (sometimes they sell out) but they ran out of seats before I got a chance to get one. This actually worked out better for me since I got a position at the front of the standing section.

The Newbirth Brass Band was amazing!  Each set is only about 45 minutes, and I wish I could have stayed for another set, but I was starving by this time!  Preservation Hall also doesn't have a bar or any bathrooms and I was sort of in need of both.  OK, I didn't really need a bar, but I did need the bathroom.

I made my way back to the hotel, trying to figure out what I was going to have for dinner when I remembered a recommendation from the hotel concierge: Deanie's Seafood.  After avoiding the obviously drunk people on Bourbon Street (it was only 9pm!), I found Deanie's.  This place was more of a diner but it was packed so I assumed it would be good.

Since they were closing pretty soon after I got there, I ordered a crawfish po' boy to go.  I was going to get it grilled but since I forgot, I ended up with a fried crawfish po' boy.  This was delicious and was devoured within 5 minutes of taking this picture.

On Friday, I woke up early once again and took a tour of the historic Hermann-Grima house.  This tour offers the visitor a glimpse into the life of the Hermanns and Grimas in the 1800's.  The history of the house is explained in detail, as well as how the purpose of the house has been transformed throughout the years.

 Once again, I couldn't take pictures inside the house, so here is the outside courtyard.

After the tour, I popped over to Stanley for brunch.  I had gotten a recommendation from my friend Tuan and this place did NOT disappoint.

Can we please take a pause for this Breaux Bridge Benedict?  This is comprised of (from the menu): housemade boudin, smoked ham, American cheese, poached eggs (I had mine scrambled because I don't like poached eggs) and creole hollandaise on toasted French bread.  Ridiculousness in every bite!  This dish tied with the grillades for the best meal of my entire trip.  There was a 20 minute wait just for seats at the bar, so clearly everyone else knew how awesome this place was as well!

So obviously right afterward, I'm walking down the street with a beer and simultaneously texting Tuan about how good that brunch was.  His response was that I should make sure to have some pralines as well.  He recommended Southern Candymakers.  My reply was that I would probably eat all the pralines and subsequently bust a gut, so thanks for the recommendation but I would not be picking up any pralines this time around.

Two blocks later, lookie what I stumbled upon...

It was a sign.  Of course I stopped in and spent $20 on pralines (regular and rum-flavored!). 

Side note/question: Why are pralines so expensive?  They're almost $3 a piece!  I'm definitely making these someday to save money.  Who wants to help me eat them?

It was almost time to catch a shuttle back to the airport for my 6pm flight, so I whiled away the final hour hanging out with George at the hotel bar.  He was a really cool guy and introduced me to a new drink: a Pimm's cup.  I had heard of it before but for some reason thought it involved Campari.  My only experience with Campari was not a pleasant one and I never want to have it again.  Ever.  But George set me straight and explained that it's actually a gin-based drink.  Gin?  I like gin.  OK, I'm in!

Pimm's cup - I loved it!

Pimm's cup - I loved it!

Then it was straight to the airport for the trip back to New Jersey on Friday night.

Whew!  Is anyone else tired?  Cause I just spent the last two hours writing this post (I was watching TV as well.  I cannot tell a lie.) and I'm tired.

But listen, in a nutshell, all I'm really trying to tell you guys is that you should (need to!) visit New Orleans.  It has proven to be a fabulous city that's full of history, art, music, and adventure.  I'm already looking forward to my next trip there in 2014.  Time to break out the spreadsheets and start planning again!