Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Orleans Redux

I meant to write this post right after we left New Orleans. But it's been a busy week. Whoo Hoo, Kendra! Congratulations on Graduating College!

Now, it's time to start that job hunt so she can pay off her student loan debt. Accordingly, we spent most of yesterday working on her resume, evaluating her current budget, and coming up with the minimum required salary for her new job. Sadly, we learned that the fun jobs (travel agent, flight attendant, cruise ship employee, tour guide) must be deferred in favor of a corporate job and nice, corporate salary. My Little Sister has her work cut out for her this summer.

Before we came to Chicagoland to celebrate with Kendra, CKL and I were in New Orleans. Did we learn anything while we were there? Let's compare the plan to what actually happened:

Day One Plan: Drive to New Orleans. Matched reality. Yay.

Day Two Plan: Sleep in, groceries, laundry, dinner, then movie. All accomplished except for the movie. Turns out that one night in a Motel 6--especially one where the cats spent the whole night screaming-- leads to a very tired drive day, and an even more tired day after.

Day Three Plan: Arrive early to score tickets for the 9:30am National Park Service (NPS) French Quarter tour; have a Muffuletta (say "moofaLOTTA") from Central Grocery; take a river cruise on the Steamboat Natchez; wander around the French Quarter; take in some music at Preservation Hall; have dinner at NOLA; check out Bourbon Street; enjoy coffee and Beignets at Cafe du Monde.

Day Three Reality:
Okay. An active itinerary for us involves two meals, one daytime activity and one nighttime activity. So we knew this was impossible from the start. But what the heck. We thought we'd give it a try.

The plan failed at the outset. When the alarm goes off, I usually hand it to CKL so he can enjoy a few snoozes while I shower. This time, I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke at 9:30am, much refreshed. Good-bye walking tour.

But after that, things went pretty well. We went to the NPS French Quarter Visitor center, and checked out the displays on New Orleans culture and history. I tortured CKL by making him hang out in a beautiful courtyard.

We bought fabulous pralines from Old South Candy. They need to bottle that smell. I could barely leave the store. The Central Grocery muffuletta is well worth the wait in line, where I also learned that anchovies come in an amazing array of packages.

Then we took a sweaty, satisfied wander down the riverbank to the Steamboat Natchez for a relaxed river cruise. Relaxing was good because it was HOT. The ice in my tea melted a third of the way through the glass.

After that, I overheated during the first four blocks of our walk through the French Quarter, so we went back to the room for a cool shower and several bottles of water. Turns out that the "drink a bottle of water every hour and have a salty snack" recommendation for the Grand Canyon also applies to New Orleans on a hot day.

Dinner was amazing. I love NOLA in Palo Alto for its colorful, vibrant atmosphere. The food is pretty good too. This NOLA was more of a trendy Fine Dining experience, and came with slow but attentive service. Impressive food, too. I had great difficulty choosing my meal, but was immensely satisfied with everything I got. We had root beer pound cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Best vanilla ice cream I have ever tasted. It actually overshadowed the pound cake.

Our wander down Bourbon Street was also deeply satisfying. Drunk kids of all ages were spilled out into the street, many of them spilling their drinks onto each other. I got to listen to pounding music, dodge drunks, and think, "I am too old for this shit." Then I went back to the room, proud of myself for not being a drunken fool.

All in all, it was a great day.

Day Four Plan: Chalmette Battlefield Monument, City Park, Dinner nearby.

Day Four Reality: Chalmette Battlefield took up a lot more of the day than I thought it would. We arrived early, and stayed for hours. Katrina may have done some serious damage to the park, but it was still a great experience. The war of 1812 is mostly a forgotten war, but some important stuff was going on in our country's history. Park ranger Harold Songy gave us lots of personal attention and told many stories. I loved it.

I also gained some important life lessons: a climb up a 100-foot monument is a LOT longer than it looks when the stairs are circular. Especially on a hot day. And trees canswallow things after all. One of the headstones in the cemetery was all but buried in tree bark.

By the time we left Chalmette, it was too late for City Park, so we grabbed dinner at a local Pizzeria (yumm!) and resumed our French Quarter experience. Preservation Hall was a wonderful introduction to dudes singing the blues live. It is impossible to pack too much powdered sugar into a beignet. I love it that latte is the default coffee experience in New Orleans.

Day Five Plan: Lunch at Commander's Palace; wander Lafayette Cemetery #1 and the Garden District, get Kendra her Voodoo presents, and go to Cuvee for dinner.

Day Five Reality: The day actually went according to plan, except that our original Voodoo destination was closed. We ended up in a little hole in the wall with lots of altars and an incredibly helpful clerk. Kendra has much Voodoo aimed toward her future of Prosperity. All meals were sublime. Interestingly enough, except for the humidity, wandering around the Garden District feels remarkably similar to wandering around our friend Julia and Wiley's neighborhood in Palo Alto. Except that the houses in New Orleans are much older.

Day Six Plan and Reality: Destrehan Plantation tour. Plus we saw our movie for the trip: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. The movie starts with a dream sequence, very briefly holds hands with reality while Harold and Kumar pack for their trip to Amsterdam, and then becomes a dream sequence again until the credits roll. It's utterly preposterous. But I still laughed a lot.

So what did I learn? I learned that I'm a tourist not a traveler. Except for hitting a few local chain restaurants for dinner, we didn't make the slightest attempt to experience New Orleans like a local.

I also learned that Katrina beat the holy hell out of that town. There were scars everywhere... piles of rubble, half-collapsed buildings, search-and-rescue crosses, boarded-up buildings, and caution tape. We even saw high water marks a few times.

That said, I wish we could have stayed longer. We never did get our walking tour of the French Quarter. My list of restaurants is still very long. And there were tours and museums I wanted to experience that never even made it on the itinerary in the first place.

I also learned that all those movies, TV shows, and bumper stickers are right: chicks DO dig scars. New Orleans may not be what it once was, but it's still here, still vibrant, and still amazing. Even if it does show some scars.

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