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Friday, August 14, 2015

New Orleans!

This is taken directly from my Tuesday Ten Posts on my Photography Blog!

I just got back from a week long vacation in the Crescent City, also known as the Big Easy or more commonly known as New Orleans. It was a great time and I'm excited to share 10 things we did in this marvelous city. I highly recommend making this a bucket list city. There is so much to see, many things to do and a lot of history to learn. It's on my top 5 places I love to visit... but I would not recommend going in July or August. It was super super hot and humid!

1.      Food, Food and Food
New Orleans cuisine is tasteful, southern, spicy, and full of seafood. We ate at some amazing restaurants. Most of the restaurants in the down town area are not chain food spots, rather they are hole in the wall, authentic, or locally owned. Those are what makes their food the number one thing we loved about this trip. We ate shrimp, tuna, craw fish, gumbo, alligator, drum fish,  red beans, beignets (see #2 below), popcorn rice, steak, po-boys, and so much more. The food is amazing. We tried a new restaurant every day and only went back to two restaurants more than once (also, #2 below). Some of our favorite restaurants were Palace Cafe, Bourbon House, Red Fish, American Sector, Cafe Beignet, Lucky Dogs, and Cleo's to name a few. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. I liked everything we tried!

2.      Beignets, Cafe Du Monde
The only two restaurants we went to more than once were Cafe Du Monde which we visited about 4 times. We also went to Cafe Beignet 3 times (two different locations). Beignets are my absolute favorite thing we ate in New Orleans. Though we had Beignets at both Cafe's I'd recommend Cafe Du Monde over any other. They are to die for. What are Beignets? They are a square French Donut with no center hole. They are made out of French Bread dough, deep fried to perfection and topped with mounds of powdered sugar. Yummy. One order comes with 3 doughnuts at every place we went. Cafe Du Monde charges $2.49 ish for a single order of 3. How can you not love that price and the taste? Oh man! However, servers at the Cafe are slow and are not in a hurry to help you out. It's a seat yourself and there usually is a line. Grab the first table that's unoccupied even if the table isn't cleaned off. They'll eventually come around and clean it and get your order. The main location is ideal for the entire experience but they also have a location in the River Walk mall now as well.

3.      French Quarter
The French Quarter of New Orleans is full of history, amazing architecture, a vast amount of shopping stores and restaurants, mounds of people and amazing sights everywhere you look.  A few of my favorites are Jackson Square, Pirate's Alley, Flea Market, Cafe Du Monde, live music everywhere and any type. We especially love the jazz music and enjoyed watching a small band play at Cafe Beignet.  If you are in the area on a Friday or Saturday make sure you walk down town French Quarter and see all the street performers and vendors. There are artists of all kinds on the streets trying to make money whether its playing music, clogging, selling their paintings, art or even hustling people for shoe shines or more. There are however, mounds
of homeless people and people on the street begging for money. That was a sad downfall for this city, but you get used to it after a block or so. The French Quarter buildings are worth the walk. We took a different street every time we went out just to look at the buildings and unique shops around the area.

4.      World War II Museum
What a touching experience. We started our World War II Museum tour by having lunch at a restaurant called the American Sector. It was delightful and fun. The table next to us had two gentleman, one elderly man and what seemed to be his son. Kent, our friend that was with us, asked the waiter to confirm if that elderly man was a World War II vet, which he was. Kent told the waiter he wanted to cover their tab. Kent said it wasn't every day you ran into a World War II veteran and that occurrence isn't going to be around for long. Kent's dad was a World War II veteran and passed away last year. It was a great way to start our day at the museum and so humbling to see how dedicated Kent was to giving back to those who served our country in this horrendous war.  The Museum was so touching, heart aching, solemn, gut wrenching and courageous. We saw many war artifacts such as uniforms, guns, tanks, planes, shoes, first aid kits, gum, cigarettes, and more. All from the WWII era and all donated by someone. They had many live footage movies and photos with commentary about war.  My favorite part was the Road to Berlin. It was the most touching and I ached for all those men and women who fought the war. There was a part about the concentration camps that just made me want to cry. Andy said his stomach was turning and I agree it was an eerie experience. Andy has actually visited one of the concentration camps in Germany previously on one of his trips and said after seeing the physical camps and learning more at the museum it was gut wrenching. The museum had an entire building with planes in it. There were three stories worth and we walked the tracks to see above each of them. Overall, it was a humbling experience and an amazing museum.

5.      Swamp Tour
The Swamp tour was definitely fun. We took a small air boat out on the private lands of the company we booked with. There were 6 of us and the captain. It was amazing scenery, creepy swamps, beautiful trees and lands, quite a lot of alligators and overall one of my favorites from the trip. I learned about alligators: they only see in black and white, they really like chicken and marshmallows, and you can hold their mouths together with two fingers because all their power is on the clamp down of their bite not on the opening of their mouths. Many people in New Orleans surrounding areas have alligators as a pet and keep them in tanks until they are bigger to go into the wild, which we got to hold. During their first 6 years they grow 1 foot each year, then after that they grow an inch a year. It was a hot day out on the boat but we had a lot of fun.

6.      Marti Gras World
I knew a little about Marti Gras when we got to New Orleans. I've seen what's on TV and I've been to New Orleans before but I learned way more than I expected! Marti Gras goes on for nearly two weeks before "Fat Tuesday" the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. During those two weeks they have parades nearly every day or multiple parades each day. We learned that last year they had nearly 55 parades leading up to Ash Wednesday. In order to obtain a parade permit an organization has to have at least 14 floats and can contain up to about 54 floats. The floats are vast and amazing. Most of them do not fit down Bourbon Street like I was assuming. The larger parades go down Canal Street which is one of the major streets just on the edge of the French Quarter. The main chassis of the floats costs about $50,000 to $60,000 for a standard size. Then each year they take all the props off, repaint and re theme the entire float. That usually costs $6,000 to $8,000 per float. And each year the themes for all parades are different. At Marti Gras they own all the props, costumes, and work on the floats. They redo floats and rent out their props to many organizations. They do Disney rides/exhibits and even casinos or hotels.  Their work is astounding. Creative, amazing hand detail in Styrofoam, wood, paper Mache and more.

7.      Cemetery Tour
We got to tour two cemetery's on our trip. St Louis #1 is the most famous Cemetery in New Orleans. it's not as big as I would have expected. We weren't able to go in on our own and had to have a guided tour but it was worth it. Interesting tombs we saw include the second famous tomb in America of the Famous Voodoo Priestess of Marie, Nicholas Cage, and more. I'd never been to a catholic cemetery before and they were filled with such history, character and a certain level of eerie / creepiness. They were very intriguing.

8.      Haunted Tour
A fun evening full of some interesting history stories, amazing buildings, lots of walking and down town French Quarter charm. We headed out to Rampart Street and met up with our Tour group at 8 pm one night. We walked the streets of the French Quarter and learned about some of the haunted houses/buildings and stories behind them. Though I didn't see anything I still believe some of the stories. Others, I'm unsure. It was worth the $16 we paid per person and we had a blast out of the heat and enjoying the French Quarter at night.

9.      Shopping
Oh the shopping in New Orleans is nearly like none other. Nearly every street you go on you run into a shopping opportunity. There are handfuls of stores that are nearly identical and sell the exact same items with slightly different prices. I can't recall how many shops we went to that sold the same masquerade masks but I would bet there are over 50. The River Walk Mall is an awesome place to shop and there is another mall right on Canal Street that we didn't make it to. We didn't do a lot of shopping except for at the French Market or Flea Market which is down by the River in the French Quarter or just some small shops here and there. Some of the shops have some unique and amazing items, lots of fine arts and photography, antiques and more.

10.   Bourbon Street
How can you go to New Orleans and not go to Bourbon Street, right? It's the one street that New Orleans is well known for and it doesn't disappoint. There is always something to see on Bourbon Street. I didn't count how many blocks makes up the bulk of Bourbon Street but I'd guess between 8-10, maybe a little more. There are bars or walk up drink counters on every block both sides of the street nearly the entire way down. There are a few restaurants, and stores but mostly Clubs/Bars. We went to a couple of really fun bars while we were out and about. Two of my favorites come to mind. #1 - The piano bar. There are a few on Bourbon Street but the one we went to was Ticklers. The three guys on the pianos were amazing. Two of them went from the piano to the drums and back. They literally could play ANY song requested and it was an awesome entertainment and made for a super fun outing. People get into dancing and it was overall a great time. #2 - A fun bar called the Beach. They had a live band playing the night we went and they were awesome. They sang songs from the 80's and 90's and got the crowd to dance and sing with them. We met an older couple from Australia that totally got into dancing and made the night super fun.

Bourbon Street also has many people begging and hustling for money. Playing their music, clogging, or just sitting on the side of the street asking for money. The smell reeks but if you can manage it, it's totally worth it just to see. Saturday night was the hoping night and was full of people.  

And of course the beads. There are people on the balcony's of the bars and buildings every night or day tossing beads out. Not only for your "typical" expectation of how beads are earned but even to kids, or anyone passing by. We got thrown our fair share of beads and by the end of the night the street is covered with broken beads, strands that got dropped or missed... and once they fall on the street you DO NOT want to pick them up. Yuck.

Bourbon Street was the best place to hear the music though. Authentic Southern sounds including jazz, blues and more. The music and the food - totally worth the trip. Oh and the Beignets... the beignets are worth the trip! 

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