We began our 24 hour whirlwind tour of New Orleans by checking into the French Quarter RV Resort and having lunch at Antoine’s Restaurant (see earlier post). With the Bear comfortably set up and secure nearby in MaBel (good-looking sheepdogs draw too much attention in the south), we began our tour of the French Quarter, the oldest neighbourhood in the city.
Our very first impression was that it was cleaner than we expected. Most of the French Quarter’s architecture was built during the period of Spanish rule in the late 18th century after most of the old French colonial buildings were destroyed in major fires in 1788 and 1794. Now, it’s an eclectic blend of stucco and rod iron. Some buildings are immaculate while others are looking quite worn and in need of repair, and as expected, the streets are narrow and most are one-way.
We walked down to the Riverwalk and over to the French Market.
Besides loads of T-shirt, hat and voodoo doll stalls, there were some interesting food options from the swamp…
We then crossed Jackson Square and made our way over to the St Louis Cathedral, one of the oldest in the United States. The cathedral was first built in 1789 but was expanded and rebuilt in 1850. It was impressive both inside and out.
After the heavenly portion of our tour, we went in the other direction (two blocks) over to Bourbon Street. It was mid-afternoon and we were looking forward to hearing some good live jazz music and sampling some local cajun fare. Neither happened. Instead, most of the establishments along Bourbon St are definitely in the ‘dive bar’ category. Now Papa Bear usually loves a good dive bar but most of them seemed worn out (as opposed to well worn) and nearly every place with music had an annoying ‘promoter’ outside trying to entice you in, and none of them had good music (loud maybe, but not good). Most featured over-priced draft beer, 2 for 1 jello shots and large ‘Hurricane’ slushy machines. The food options mainly came down to flimsy-looking pizza slices, ‘Lucky’ hot dog carts, poboy shrimp sandwiches and all sorts of cheap fried chicken joints. It was kind of like a 3 star Mexican resort.
On the other hand, there was some terrific street music throughout the Quarter, including on Bourbon St. This 12 piece band was incredible and were much better than any of the inside groups.
In terms of an after lunch snack, we decided to switch to Plan B – beignets. Beignets are a French pastry made from deep-fried yeast dough and are covered in powdered sugar. That sounded nutritious. The two most popular places in the French Quarter are Cafe Du Monde and Cafe Beignet; we opted for the latter. The woman at the counter explained that they make their beignets to order – you had to buy 3 for $3.99. Within a few minutes, a warm, heavy, greasy bag was brought to our table.
We each sampled a bite, and in the process, covered ourselves in the chalky powdered sugar (seriously, there was an inch of sugar at the bottom of the bag). The verdict: more or less the same as a carnival funnel cake. Based on the weight, texture and taste, we’re pretty sure there wasn’t a French-trained pastry chef in the back, delicately preparing these lardy bad boys. Half of one was enough for both of us…
So after returning to the RV park to check on the Bear, we re-grouped and returned to the French Quarter after dark. Mama Bear was determined to buy (or acquire) some Mardi Gras beads. Just about every souvenir shop sells every variety of bead possible. But as we rounded on to Bourbon St, we noticed a group of people on a balcony, and as we passed by a bounty of beads started to rain down on us. Despite a half-hearted offer, Mama Bear only had to flash a smile…
We have to admit, Bourbon St. was much better at night but the music was still kind of crappy (note: by crappy we mean that it was average quality, not anything approaching New Orleans jazz, and was way too loud) so we wandered over to Canal St which marks the divide between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. It was great and Papa Bear decided to get in the local groove with a beer and a ‘to go’ cup (every city should be this relaxed).
After returning to the RV park, we met our neighbours Joe and Pat from Little Rock, Arkansas, who came over for a late evening night cap. Joe is a laser tool manufacturer but makes BBQ sauce on the side – he gave us two jars. So between that and the free beads, it was a good night!
The next morning, we had another look around the French Quarter, this time with the Bear in tow. Mama Bear discovered a wonderful lighting store – Bevolo – and plans to decorate our next house with several of their finely crafted copper gas lamps.
We finished our visit by driving through the CBD over to the Garden District. We wandered around the beautiful properties and ended our tour by doing a self-guided walk through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Shaded by groves of lush greenery, this cemetery was built in 1833. Some of the wealthier family tombs were built of marble, with elaborate details, but most were constructed of inexpensive plastered brick. There are numerous large cemeteries like this all over New Orleans.Very interesting and most certainly haunted…
So all-in-all, we discovered great architecture, outdoor music, liquor laws and gas light fixtures, all in a vibrant city with a very unique culture and atmosphere. Less appealing was the food, indoor music and bothersome street hucksters. That said, we had a wonderful time in the Big Easy.