Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler - Day One

For as long as I can remember, Justin and I have talked about visiting New Orleans. We talk quite a bit about the places we'd like to travel together, but for the most part, it's all just dreaming and hoping for as long as we're working our current not-particularly-lucrative jobs. We talk about experiencing exotic locales all over the world together, and exploring places closer to home as well. New Orleans, however, has always been on the table. For one, Justin likes it there -- he went a couple years ago for a friend's wedding and enjoyed enough to want to go back. Furthermore, I hadn't been there since I was a very small child and my mother and grandparents took me there on a trip that I can't begin to remember.

If you recall, last year I even signed us up for a New Orleans-themed cooking class as a surprise for Justin, because our hypothetical trip was so dear to our hearts, and at the time, there was no way we could afford to go. Things changed, however, in November, when my dad discovered that he had a massive surplus of frequent flyer miles that were about to expire. Being the sort of person who likes to delegate his menial chores to others, Dad told me to figure out how to dispose of his miles. Suddenly, a free flight to the Big Easy was in the cards.

I booked it with an eye towards taking a romantic getaway over Valentine's Day, and as it turns out, Dad has a client with connections at the very elegant, exceptionally well-located Roosevelt Hotel in the city who was able to help us get a special deal on a room that would otherwise be well outside our meager means. All thanks to Dad's generosity, we were well on our way.

Since American's frequent flyer program restricts your flight options in exchange for giving you free airfare, we were stuck with a 7:30 am flight. When we got to the airport, we discovered that that our departure time had been changed without us knowing, and it was actually leaving at 6:30. Thankfully, I manage my travel-related anxiety by getting to the airport ludicrously early, so we still had sufficient time to get through security and hike across the never-ending expanse that is O'Hare in time to board our flight.

We arrived on the day of Barkus, the canine Mardi Gras parade that spoofs the name of the super-krewe known as Bacchus. As a result, the French Quarter was swarming with dogs in cute costumes and their fair share of beads.
Justin's friend, Stephen, was kind enough to fetch us from the airport at the ungodly hour at which we arrived, and he and his wife took us out to brunch at Elizabeth's, a quirky neighborhood restaurant popular with locals for its incredible brunch menu. The two college buddies were able to catch up over such delicacies as praline bacon, but our four in the morning alarm was having a marked effect on me, and I was fading fast. After brunch, Stephen and his wife dropped us off at the hotel so we could check in and take a much-needed nap. 

Mardi Gras beads adorning a doorway in the French Quarter.
Feeling better-rested, we strolled over to the French Quarter, a short distance from our hotel, and meandered around. Since we had been so busy with our move in the weeks leading up to our trip, I had done a completely uncharacteristic lack of planning for our time in New Orleans. As Dad will attest, I usually go into my vacations with a rigorous schedule of sight-seeing in mind, determined not to miss any opportunity to see everything of interest. However, with this trip, I merely had a vague goal of seeing some of the city's scenic cemeteries, and eating delicious food. Neither would be difficult to accomplish given the abundance of riches in both departments, but as a result, we spent a lot more time wandering around and soaking in the local atmosphere than I usually do when I'm out of town.

On the recommendation of the foodie blogosphere (basically the only research I did for the trip before we left), we stopped for a snack at Meltdown, a popsicle shop with unique and truly magnificent offerings. Justin sampled their Mexican chocolate ice pop, and, predictably, I went with salted caramel and it blew my mind. Originally, Justin and I had planned to split our popsicles so we could each have some of both, but as soon as I tasted mine, all plans for sharing went right out the window. Come summer, I will be trying to recreate that frozen delight, I promise you.

We spent our afternoon wandering through the faded splendor of the French Quarter, taking in the wrought-iron balconies, sprawling potted plants, peeling paint, and crumbling plaster. Much of the appeal of the neighborhood is in its elegant dilapidation, and I found myself wondering if people ever make the effort to restore things to a state of newness, or if they try to keep everything in a state of charming disrepair on purpose.

For dinner, we stopped at Cafe Maspero, a restaurant located on the tourist-centric Decatur Street not far from Jackson Square. The guidebook recommended it on the basis of having cheap and plentiful food, and while it wasn't the most delicious meal I've ever had, the heaps of fried shrimp and jambalaya fortified us after a long day.

Since partying and boozing it up isn't really our style, we decided to turn in early for the night, but not before walking back to our hotel along Bourbon Street to take in the debauchery. We did not partake, but we observed the seemingly endless procession of strip clubs, sex shops, and bars serving frighteningly large portions of alcohol being consumed in the streets by an interesting mix of young revelers and couples pushing strollers. It was still early, but it's disconcerting to see people toting babies around while sipping from a super-sized daiquiri. Even if it wasn't our scene, Bourbon Street is not a sight to be missed...

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