Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Big Easy Birthday

As luck and timing would have it, we take our yearly vacation in early September, once school is back in and the resorts aren't so crowded. Even though Clint's birthday isn't actually until mid-September, we still wind up celebrating the occasion in some tropical location, whereas my April birthday has always meant dinner out and splitting a cupcake on the couch for dessert. The squeaky wheel does, in fact, get the oil, because after years of complaining, this year I got a birthday trip!

We woke up bright and early on my birthday and headed to the airport, destination: New Orleans. We wound up getting upgraded to first class both coming and going, which is always a good thing. A glass of champagne and an US Weekly later, we landed in the Big Easy! As soon as we arrived and dropped off our luggage at the beautiful Roosevelt hotel, we headed to the Napoleon House for lunch. Muffalettas and Pimm's Cups are not a bad way to start off a celebratory trip, I can tell you that.

We were in town during the French Quarter Festival, so after lunch we walked through the French Quarter to Jackson Square to take in all the sights and sounds the festival had to offer. I'm surprised to say that French Quarter Festival might have been my favorite thing about the trip because it was quintessential New Orleans--making our way down the street, there were stages set up everywhere with jazz bands playing. The streets were closed and were filled people dancing and enjoying the music.

Enjoying the French Quarter Festival in Jackson Square.

We took our "go cups" and meandered around downtown, people watching and looking at the beautiful buildings. Remnants of Mardi Gras (in the form of shiny beads) are everywhere you go in NOLA.

I love this balcony decked out in beads.

It's almost like beads grow on trees in New Orleans!

We freshened up for dinner and had just enough time to squeeze in a drink at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone before our reservation at Commander's Palace.

Just like it sounds, the Carousel Bar is a (slowly) moving carousel that rotates while you sit and sip.

Here we are, enjoying the "ride."

A birthday dinner at the famous Commander's Palace.

Commander's Palace has been a New Orleans landmark since 1893 and is one of the best restaurants in the city. We were told they would make a big fuss for my birthday, and I wasn't disappointed.

Please note the balloons that were waiting for me at our table when we arrived.
This is how you birthday.

We started off our meal with turtle soup, which was spicy and delicious, and then moved on to Louisiana wild white shrimp and shrimp and tasso Henican. I wish I could tell you how amazing their Creole bread pudding was for dessert, but I had a migraine that had been brewing all day and *very sadly* we left without dessert. I can assure you we made up for it for the rest of the trip, though.

I'm not usually a morning person, but the idea of beignets at Cafe Du Monde got us up and raring to go the next day in a way that my typical bowl of oatmeal does not.

They are as good as you think they would be, if not better. The best part might be that they are shockingly inexpensive at $3.25 an order! After we finished all that fried, doughy deliciousness, we headed to St. Louis Cemetery #1 for our cemetery and voodoo tour.

Inside St. Louis cemetery #1, the oldest cemetery in New Orleans.

If a cemetery tour seems strange, it may be, but interesting. Because of the potential for flooding, the dead aren't buried underground in New Orleans, but are interred in these vaults. The cemetery is a maze of crypts that are ornate and unique. This particular cemetery is where famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried. Superstition has it that if you touch her grave and spin around three times, you'll get a wish granted (I'll have to let you know about that). There's also an empty burial vault for a certain celebrity inside St. Louis #1:

After the IRS seized Cage's property for tax evasion in 2009,
this was the only real estate in New Orleans he had left. 

After our tour, we made our way to Acme Oyster Company and had the biggest oysters I've ever seen in my life. They were cold, briny, and fantastic. We followed those up with po' boys filled with fried oysters and shrimp and Tabasco mayonnaise.

It's easy to see why people line up down the block for lunch at Acme Oyster House. 

Once we finished and waddled away from lunch, we visited Mardi Gras World to see where many of the actual floats are made for Mardi Gras. We toured the huge warehouse and got to see past decorations and floats, as well as pieces already being made for next year's parade.

The floats are decorated with gold and silver leaf to make them sparkle, and they are beautiful.

Sculpting a giant piece for a float out of Styrofoam.

The details are hand painted.

We found a creation we'd like to have!

Later that day, once it was dark, we took a ghost tour of one of the most haunted cities in America. We heard lots of spooky tales and saw some pictures that looked an awful lot like spirits at various places around the French Quarter. One highlight: Muriel's restaurant at the corner of Jackson Square sets a table with bread and wine each night for their ghost, in an effort to keep him happy. We were able to walk by and see the (seemingly empty?) table.

For the right price, you can reserve the ghost table. 

We started off our third day with a breakfast fit for a king at the Stanley Restaurant. My friend Rebekah had told me about their Bananas Foster French toast, and I can promise you, it did not disappoint. Only in a city as decadent at New Orleans could you order this for breakfast:

Yes, that's two scoops of ice cream on top. Have. Mercy.

After that sugar rush, we headed outside the city to the bayou for a swamp tour. We cruised through the water and saw quite a few turtles and alligators, and even had a chance to interact with some.

Feeling adventurous on our swamp tour.

Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

One of many alligators we saw during our boat ride.

We stopped to feed quite a few....

And even managed to interact with this baby gator!

Once we got back to the city, we meandered through the French Market, an open market with food and gifts. If you're looking to try fried alligator on a stick or get yourself a souvenir, the French Market is your spot. Conveniently, it's also right down the street from Central Grocery, the Italian grocery store where the original muffaletta sandwich was invented. We squeezed in at the counter of the tiny little store and savored every bite.

You can't beat the original.

We took the St. Charles streetcar up to the Garden District and enjoyed gawking at all the gorgeous antebellum houses. We saw block after block of early 19th-century mansions, resplendent with courtyards and fountains. The neighborhood was so gorgeous and idyllic, it felt worlds away from Bourbon Street and all the activity of the French Quarter! (It's also where I would buy my New Orleans real estate if I had an extra few million dollars).

Our last dinner in the Big Easy was at Bourbon House restaurant, where we enjoyed some of the largest and most delectable shrimp I have ever encountered. New Orleans is a haven of amazing food--everywhere you turn there is something else mouthwatering to discover. And at this dinner, I got my birthday cake and candle; it's not considered late when you celebrate birthday month (one of the many benefits of celebrating all month)!

We still hadn't been to the infamous Pat O'Brien's yet, and so we strolled down Bourbon Street and enjoyed an after dinner cocktail in the courtyard, by the fiery fountain.

Walking down Bourbon Street at night.
It was surprisingly tame during our visit...then again, we never braved it after 10:00 p.m.!

We hated the thought of leaving NOLA without stopping at Brennan's restaurant, so we squeezed in one last meal and enjoyed breakfast there before heading to the airport on Wednesday. It was a fitting way to cap off our whirlwind 72 hours in the Crescent City. Brennan's is the place that made bananas foster famous, and although we didn't indulge, we did have fun watching other tables "go up in flames," so to speak.

The Brennan's building was constructed in 1795 by the grandfather of artist Edgar Degas.
The restaurant itself is an iconic part of New Orleans.

In case you couldn't tell, we had a fabulous trip. I loved New Orleans--it's a city filled with history, beauty, food, and fun. I can't decide what was greater: the number of miles we walked or the crawfish we ate. I'll call it a tie for the sake of simplicity. And I can tell you that when it was all said and done, we let the good times roll!