Sunday, May 18, 2014

My First Visit to Nawlins

The United States is filled with lots of cool cities that have lots of cool things.  I feel very fortunate to have spent and be spending a large portion of my formative years in New York City where it seems like you can have any type of experience you want at any hour of the day.

I love New York.  And, there are many other cities I have a passion to explore.

One of those cities is New Orleans.


Similar to my obsession with Austin, TX,  my fascination with New Orleans sprang up out of nowhere.  I don't think it has to do with Mardi Gras, but maybe I can attribute it to Jazz Fest?  Whatever it is, New Orleans has been in the Top 5 of my "Places to Visit in the US" for a while now.

Feeling spontaneous one dreary winter afternoon, I started looking up flights (and hotels) for Jazz Fest 2014.  Clearly, I was too late in the game as all the decent places had been booked and flight fares were astronomical.  I spoke to my mom about this and asked her when she had last been in New Orleans, if ever.  Her response was something along the lines of "Gee, it may have been in....I don't know...the Seventies".  It was time for her to return.

In honor of Mother's Day, we decided to book a weekend trip to New Orleans for my first visit to the city, to Louisiana, and to The South (as far as I'm concerned).  In preparation for this trip we spent hours combing through Trip Advisor reviews, blog posts, recommendations from friends etc, to find the best places to eat in the city.  Sites and attractions?  We'd figure that out later.

Our list was huge.  With a weekend trip, unfortunately there are only so many meals that can be had.  We settled on the following:
Saturday Breakfast
Saturday Lunch
Saturday Happy Hour (maybe)
Saturday Dinner
Sunday Brunch
Sunday Snack (maybe)

Arriving late Friday night may have set us back a Friday night dinner, but we have jobs.

There were so many places to choose from -- local recommendations and tourist traps (Cafe du Monde beignets, anyone?) -- but it was really hard to choose.  My next post will give you a closer look at where we ended up eating, what we ordered etc.

Cafe Au Lait.  No Beignets for the Gluten Free!
Once we arrived, we spent the majority of our time in the French Quarter where our Bed & Breakfast, Grenoble House, was located.  Here's a tip for those traveling to NOLA and looking to get the most out of the city in the least amount of time:  stay somewhere convenient and budget-friendly.  The Grenoble House was listed as the top spot in New Orleans according to Trip Advisor.  It was fine.  Our room did feel a bit off the beaten path (it was next to the circuit board and "control panel" for heat, electricity etc) and the large sitting room and kitchen were unnecessary given how little time we spent in the space.  But, the staff was lovely and it was a perfect location for our forays.

On Saturday we walked through the French Quarter and along the Waterfront and admired the clean-up routine taking place on Bourbon Street.  We briefly perused the French Market and commented on how the same junk is sold whether you're in NY, NOLA, or Norway, took the Trolley Car down St. Charles Street and visited the Touro Synagogue (they have a beautiful Sanctuary and a great story), tried lots of Hot Sauce and Pralines, and also managed to pop-into many shops along the way.

A permanent Sukkah in the Courtyard at Touro Synagogue

Ceiling in the Sanctuary
Original Blueprints from Touro Synagogue when it was located in the French Quarter

We also got to witness the famous New Orleans parades complete with dancing in the street and a brass band.  This one was celebrating a wedding and we loved the high energy festivities!

Wedding Parade
Warning: if you buy something in the French Quarter, it will likely be emblazoned with a Fleur de Lis.

After lunch and a much needed nap, we sang along to the Dueling Pianos at Pat O'Briens, observed the spectacle of Bourbon Street complete with people throwing Mardi Gras beads from balconies, scantily clad and oddly clad people roaming from bar to bar, Bachelors, Bachelorettes, and all and everything in between.  Our dinner was delicious and we were stuffed and exhausted and ready for bed by 12:30.

Sunday brought yet another eating extravaganza with a famous Jazz Brunch.  The weather was iffy and sporadic downpours had us grab the trolley and head to the WWII Museum.  Bummed that my sister couldn't join us for the weekend, we got off the trolley a few stops early to take a picture at Julia Street.

Julia Street

The WWII Museum was wonderful.  They have an excellent exhibit about D-Day and pay homage to Andrew Higgins and Higgins Industries, the New Orleans-based company, that designed and manufactured the amphibious boats used for the D-Day operations.  A highlight of the museum was the 40 minute film, narrated by Tom Hanks, that gives the viewer an in-depth (and 4D) experience into how the US was involved in WWII and fought diligently on two fronts -- one in Europe, and one in the Pacific.  Absolutely worth the extra ticket fee.

By the time we were done with all that, it was time to head to the airport and back to New York.  There were many, many places to see and activities to do (SWAMP TOURS!) that we didn't have time for.

As I say about many places after I leave,  I will be back.


And since I loved every meal we had, here are my recommendations:

Saturday Breakfast:  Meals from the Heart Cafe
Saturday Lunch:  The Joint
Saturday Afternoon:  Rather than Happy Hour, at some point Saturday evening head to Pat O'Briens for their Signature Hurricane cocktail and dueling pianos in the Piano Bar
Saturday Dinner:  GW Fins
Sunday Jazz Brunch:  Arnaud's

Stay tuned for an in-depth view of them all!