A warning that this post is longer than my Voyage posts typically are but that’s because so much happened! And so many pictures were taken! And I want to share all of that with you! So let’s get through a quick preface before you get to the good stuff.
This was an adventure literally 5 years in the making. Since we met, my best friend Robin and I have been wanting to go down to New Orleans, Louisiana. Last weekend we finally made the jump and road tripped from my newfound home in North Carolina to spend a few days in the French Quarter. 10+ hours, each way. 700+ miles, each way. Too many mixed CDs to actually count, each way. And quite a lot of new experiences in between. Enjoy!
We left as early as the two of us could conceivably manage on Thursday morning and landed down in New Orleans around 7pm, after a very comical scene about an hour out which featured Robin and I running from giant killer wasps at a gas station in Mississippi while also trying to check mystery tire pressure levels. Let’s just say it was an unpleasant experience and it culminated in us deciding to push on in hope that the tiny little dashboard light would cut us some slack. It did.
After checking in at the French Market Inn, which is a beautiful little inn right on the edge of the river side of the French Quarter (I’m assuming that you could have assumed that from the name but I wanted to be really thorough with you, dear reader), we hit the streets! Mostly tired but also a little hungry, we went for a walk around our immediate surroundings in search of sustenance and happened to catch some cool sights as the sun was going down.
I have a real love for wrought iron and the gates lining Jackson Square a few blocks down from where we were staying happened to play right into that!
Stay tuned for a lot of pictures of porches, another architectural soft spot of mine. This particular one seemed oh so beautiful in contrast to the massive law-oriented, courthouse-type building behind it.
And another view of Jackson Square (that brass man hanging out on his brass horse is none other than Andrew Jackson himself, go figure) and the St. Louis Cathedral at sunset.
After many shuffle, stop, read the menu, shuffle on, repeat scenarios we finally settled on grabbing a quick bite at Pierre Maspero’s. Despite having grown up on an island, I’m not the biggest fan of seafood, so I was a little hesitant about food options down in New Orleans. However, I’ve also recently become more ambitious in trying new foods so I was motivated to really give the southern creole cuisine a shot. As long as french fries were also on the menu.
That being said, Robin and I ordered a Crescent City Sampler to split, comprised of Cajun Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffée, and Chicken & Andouille Gumbo. We wanted to try all of these things throughout the weekend and now we could knock them all out in one go so it was perfect! I highly recommend this game plan if you’re like me and had never tried this kind of cuisine before because it was a huge help to figure out what I could actually handle without having to waste a whole entrée sized portion. For example the Etouffée was definitely not for me, but I couldn’t get enough of the Jambalaya. Also tried: fried green tomatoes (yum!) and sweet potato stout (wish it had been just normal potato stout but also, yum!).
After using the night before to plan out all of the things we wanted to do, Friday became a pretty big day for us. As soon as we woke up and got ourselves dressed for the day, we set out in fear of thunderstorms and stopped for cheesy tourist ponchos before heading across the street to try another New Orleans famed dish: beignets! Pronounced “ben-yays,” not bayg-nets… you’re in the French Quarter, people! C’mon!
The very touristy spot to try beignets, but obviously a must for first-timers like myself. I’m sure there are other cute cafes to enjoy the deliciously New Orleans fried dough treat, so let me know if you know of any!
As the skies opened up on us, the outdoor (but sheltered from the downpour) terrace area of Cafe Du Monde became extremely crowded. The rain was a nice little cool down, but still not cool enough for us to order hot coffees with our breakfast.
Robin and I made the mistake of thinking that we each needed an order of beignets. Trust me, we didn’t. They’re a sweet treat but they’re also super thick dough so they can really fill you up quickly. We also went with the iced cafe au laits, which if you’re used to black coffee like me I do not recommend. In case you didn’t know, lait means milk in French and in New Orleans it means a lot of it.
After finishing up our breakfast we went back across the street to visit the St. Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in North America! According to a woman who worked inside, the artwork on the ceiling was a major part of historians being able to date the construction of the Cathedral way back to the late 1700s/early 1800s. This place has seen some tragedy, so I recommend taking a look through the history if you’re interested. It was absolutely beautiful to meander through.
We sat for a moment of quiet contemplation and then got back to business: unknowingly making our trips religiously oriented historical escapades, we decided to go visit the Old Ursuline Convent next.
The place was absolutely massive and we only wandered the ground floor, which is open to the public. The general grounds and gardens were also beautiful and we spent a few moments sitting under the shade of a large tree out back before continuing with our day. Remember this convent, remember all this cheery sunshine, because it’s going to come back in a few paragraphs…
Leaving the convent, we walked the eastern residential streets of the French Quarter to gaze upon some beautifully colored New Orleans-style homes. So many porches!
Bourbon Street! In the day time, from the residential end.
Back Garden goals, amirite?
As we made our way towards the Wax Museum, our next planned destination, we became increasingly aware of the rapidly approaching (and quite threatening looking) grey clouds trailing behind us. Unfortunately, the Wax Museum was closed! And sure enough little tiny drops of rain started to fall faster and faster as we figured that out. Robin looked up the closest cafe, where we could sit and form a game plan, and so we ended up at Cafe Conti.
I was lucky enough to get the last of the Strawberry Basil Lemonade and it was… wordlessly good. Can’t wait to try making that at home.
After a little more adventuring around the riverbanks and a quick stop at the hotel, we were on to the evening phase of our day. The calm before the Ghost & Vampire walking tour!
Look at the size of that bird! He did not appreciate my picture taking.
We arrived a little early and decided to stroll through Louis Armstrong Park across the street for a few minutes. A super cool location with all sorts of fun bridges and structures and art work to admire, all in tribute to the jazz culture of New Orleans.
As the clock struck 7pm, we crossed back over to the Voodoo Lounge – the walking tour meeting spot. We were still early so we took advantage of the two-for-one Hurricane deal and parked ourselves at the bar. Let me say this, I freaking love this place. I honestly could have moved to New Orleans just so I could become a regular at this particular dive bar (and yes, they self identify as a dive bar on their Facebook page). While we were there, we listened to an awesome playlist (featuring ditties like ‘Lips Like Sugar’ by Echo & The Bunnymen and ‘White Lies’ by Max Frost) and learned that the bearded bartending fella, Houla, has a pretty good movie and book stash going on. ‘City of Lost Children’ was on the screen (with a few other creepy scaries stacked up behind the counter) and a handful of enticingly titled books lined the window behind us. As Robin and I flipped through the book on interesting facts and myths, Houla told us that he used to have a comprehensive Vampire lore book… but it got stolen… and I then proceeded to get very upset.
The Voodoo Lounge
It was time for the tour to start so we carted our drinks out to meet our guide Ducky on the pavement. We booked our walking tours with a company called French Quarter Phantoms and I am telling you right now: they were so fun. If you’re interested in cool creepy walking tours with amazing guides, definitely book with this place. Hanging out in the Voodoo Lounge was enough to set me off on the right foot but Ducky knocked the experience up a few pegs and well, we just had a really great time!
I won’t spoil any of the stories but I will tell you that I was inducted into the Undead Society (and am patiently awaiting my official cape and laminated membership card) and Robin and I discovered that that Ursuline Convent we walked around earlier in the day? Yeah, big spot for New Orleans Vampire lore.
Creepiest thing about this photo is that I can’t actually remember whether or not there really were people on that porch while we were standing under it…
See that hoard of people walking towards the building on the right? Yeah, notice how I was not one of them. Allegedly all sorts of crazy creepy things have happened to people in and around this building (American Horror Story Coven, anyone? Delphine LaLaurie… enough said) so Robin and I weren’t taking any chances. The weird light streak that later showed up on this photo proved we had the right idea.
And then we went to Bourbon Street! And returned home to sleep with the light on and music playing all night long because we were afraid of all the stories we heard on our Ghost & Vampire tour. Two grown girls, very much decided on the fact that they were probably going to be hunted out by vampires in the night.
Well, turns out we weren’t.
And the big event of our Saturday can be described in two words: cemetery tour.
But first, breakfast. We decided to go back to Cafe Conti because when we had ducked in to avoid the rain we perused the menu and the crêpe selection really caught our eyes. Definitely worth it; the coffee was fantastic and the food was exactly what we needed to carb up for the day ahead. By the time we finished we had a little bit of time left before the cemetery tour we booked so we went back to Louis Armstrong Park to relax and chat for a while.
I freaking love cool trees. This one happened to have what looked like a ton of mini trees growing on top of the bowed branch. As I took out my camera I said “I’m gonna take a picture of that tree” and without missing a beat Robin said “I know you are.” Because I love cool trees. And I make that very evident.
We chose to book our cemetery tour with French Quarter Phantoms again because, like I said, they were so good! These guys really are expert story tellers and what’s more, you actually get the feeling that they really enjoy their jobs. This time around we were matched up with Robert, though Ducky also noticed us from the night before and said hello! Pro-tip: do the Ghost & Vampire tour at the latest available time slot and the cemetery tour at the earliest. I’m talking about heat comfort here, people.
Robert explaining the style of New Orleans cemeteries to us: as you can see the tombs are above ground and come in many different designs. Highly recommend looking up this style of burial because it is absolutely nuts. It’s like a burial-cremation combo. The general guesstimate is around 100,000 people lying at rest in this small cemetery alone.
St. Louis Cemetery #1 happens to be home to a lot of cool people spanning all periods of history: Homer Plessy (from Plessy vs. Ferguson), Marie Laveau (the Voodoo Queen, allegedly but not confirmed buried here), the future dead Nicholas Cage (you know who I’m talking about), and a bunch of other really interesting people. One of my favorite tombs, not pictured, was the one with the blue jazz note on top, literally called the Musicians Tomb, where musicians without a burial spot can be interred.
After the tour we stopped for some drinks to cool down then went in search of the St. Charles Ave trolley/streetcar. The Garden District bordering the French Quarter seemed like a beautiful sightseeing opportunity but let me tell you, for those of us not used to this heat and humidity walking around can get exhausting pretty quickly! We wanted to see the famous beautiful houses but weren’t about to amble up and down the streets so we hopped on a streetcar at the corner of Canal and Carondelet to swing down the length of St. Charles Ave for us. Highly recommend for those of you without a lot of time and with a desire to sit back and watch the pretty scenery go by. I like to think we got the general gist of the Garden District.
This chateau reminded me so much of the sights in my own hometown of Newport, RI! It looks very similar to some of the historic mansions we’ve got lining Bellevue Avenue.
A lot of the trees were absolutely covered in Mardi Gras beads, which I can’t decide how I feel about yet. They look so cool, but I can’t help but wonder how the trees fare.
Relaxing at the hotel for a little bit to work up our appetites was next on our list, then we were out in search of boiled crawfish. I was absolutely adamant about trying them because come on, where else are you going to want to enjoy (or not enjoy, but still try!) boiled crawfish than in Louisiana? Literally no where! So we did it, and it went much better than expected. I actually liked them!
They look positively traumatizing, and I still can’t believe that so little of them is actually eaten, but we ate this whole thing! I will admit that we watched YouTube videos to teach us how it’s correctly done.
Robin’s first attempt: looking confident!
We conquered the crawfish and got ourselves some delicious fudge on the walk back as a reward for our triumphs, falling into bed happily sunned and full of food in anticipation of yet another early rising, long day of driving.
On our last day, we woke up relatively early (again) and decided to take one last crack at the Café Du Monde beignets before hitting the road. This time we learned our lesson and split an order. We even picked up some of their famous Coffee and Chicory (remember when I attempted to make something like that?) as a souvenir. By the time we got back to the hotel and finished up our powdered sugar coated treats, the car had been pulled ’round and we were ready to hit the road!
It was a long weekend, this is a long post, but I hope I conveyed just how much I absolutely loved every minute spent in The Big Easy.
Have you ever been to New Orleans? Are you planning on going? What’s on your list that we may have missed out on? Because I definitely plan on going back.