new orleans

3 Days Alone in New Orleans: Day 3

After a later start, I decided to take a walk around the riverfront by the hotel I was staying at, the Hilton Riverside. The hotel is fine, and as Hilton card holders we get the points when we stay at a Hilton property, but the lobby always smells vaguely of Axe body spray. I had thought it was a lingering cloud from a guest (because let’s face it, all it takes is one) but no, that’s the smell they pipe into the lobby. It is adjacent to an indoor mall along the Mississippi that houses an adjunct Café du Monde.

Café du Monde (But Not That One)

Without thinking, I broke the number one rule of Café du Monde: don’t order “to go”. I was desperate for coffee and wanted a cup I could walk around with but completely forgot to mention that I didn’t also want my beignets to go, which meant I received a piping hot bag of dough and sugar. Still good though.

Café DON’T Monde.

Café DON’T Monde.

But don’t worry, I got a proper experience at the original Café du Monde on Decatur St. (twice!) during my stay. A chicory café au lait is definitely a unique experience to try if you’re a coffee drinker.

That’s more like it.

That’s more like it.

A Streetcar Named Perspire 

I tried to go to the Garden District on the green line to see all of the fancy houses (including the American Horror Story: Coven house) and try a place a local recommended for brunch, DTB/Down the Bayou, but encountered some transportation issues. Apparently due to a marathon run taking place in the city, the entire green line was shut down. Myself and about 15 other people stood around in the heat and humidity for 20 minutes like gawking idiots before we were told by a passing man on a bike wearing a reflective vest what was going on, and that we should hop “that bus that’s pulling up right now.”

No one moved initially. After all, just about anyone can buy a reflective vest, who the hell was this guy? Eventually after he got frustrated no one was listening to him, he looked me dead in the eye and said “I’m telling you, the line is down, you’ll be waiting here forever. Go get on that bus if you need to go to the Garden District.” So I did (thank you, daily Jazzy Pass with unlimited transfers!). After sitting down, I thought that the whole point of me going was to experience the sights along the street car path and by sitting on a bus I’d be really missing out, so I got off and changed my plans. Good thing too, because while the bus did make a stop where I wanted, the end of the line was in Algiers, all the way across the river.

I wonder if I have what it takes to attend Miss Robichaux’s Academy.

I wonder if I have what it takes to attend Miss Robichaux’s Academy.

Since all my plans came crashing down, I figured I’d hop the red car to go to back to the French Quarter to visit some museums.

The Cabildo and the Presbytère Museums

On either side of the iconic St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square are the Cabildo and the Presbytère.

St. Louis Cathedral with the Presbytère on the right, taken from Jackson Square.

St. Louis Cathedral with the Presbytère on the right, taken from Jackson Square.

The Cabildo

The Cabildo was the seat of the Spanish colonial city hall in New Orleans, the original of which burned down in the great fire of 1788. It was rebuilt, had its Spanish coat of arms removed, and had more American decorations of an eagle and cannonballs engraved into its façade. It’s also where Madame LaLaurie’s victims were said to have been taken for care once her dastardly deeds were discovered, using it as a makeshift hospital. Today, it’s a museum that has some artifacts from semi-modern New Orleans history (jazz, bars, food), as well as from the battle of New Orleans including items from Andrew Jackson’s troops and privateers like Jean Lafitte.

It’s worth it to step into St. Louis Cathedral for a peek. It’s open to the public, and as long as they’re not holding mass, you are free to take photos.

It’s worth it to step into St. Louis Cathedral for a peek. It’s open to the public, and as long as they’re not holding mass, you are free to take photos.

The Presbytère

Built to match the Cabildo flanking the St. Louis Cathedral, the Presbytère was originally intended to house clergy, but never did. It was used for commercial purposes until the mid 1800’s, when it was then used by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Today, it is another of the many fine museums New Orleans has to offer, and has a permanent exhibit explaining the history of Mardi Gras, which I found exceptionally fascinating.

It’s absolutely worth it to tour their Mardi Gras exhibit.

It’s absolutely worth it to tour their Mardi Gras exhibit.

I especially enjoyed that they had an exhibit dedicated to how Cajuns celebrate Mardi Gras, complete with their homemade screen door masks and standing on horses. My husband and I had watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final episodes where he visited Louisiana and participated in this much more down-to-earth and boisterous version of the celebration most people are familiar with.

I especially appreciated that they had a functional bench fashioned to look like the tailgate of a truck.

I especially appreciated that they had a functional bench fashioned to look like the tailgate of a truck.

This unnerving wall of faces shows how Cajuns make their Mardi Gras masks from painted screen door material, which I first saw on that Anthony Bourdain episode. The conical plush nose with the safety pin and jingle bell was a signature of one of the families he visited. I wonder if this was made by them.

This unnerving wall of faces shows how Cajuns make their Mardi Gras masks from painted screen door material, which I first saw on that Anthony Bourdain episode. The conical plush nose with the safety pin and jingle bell was a signature of one of the families he visited. I wonder if this was made by them.

The Presbytère also is home to a Hurricane Katrina exhibit, which was both fascinating and incredibly, incredibly heart wrenching. Throughout my week-long visit, every good-natured and jovial local I met would subtly interject their own tragic Katrina story before going right back to maintaining the fun-loving ambiance they know tourists are looking for.

I personally feel that it’s important to understand that just because non-locals may not hear much about it anymore doesn’t mean that Katrina-related problems have gone away. It would do a visitor well to listen to those stories when they come up in conversation. Life’s not all Mardi Gras beads and rum drinks for the locals, and it’s all too easy to turn blind eye to the crumbling buildings and upset lives just outside of the party atmosphere of the French Quarter. Many have lost property, friends, and family, and feel left behind by FEMA. While it’s been 13 years since the storm hit, the impact runs deep and still feels fresh for some, if not many.

Visit the museum if you want just a glimpse into a fraction of what they experienced, but I really encourage you to talk about it with folks who want to share their stories. It’s really eye-opening if you’re like me and only saw what the news showed you.

After I got my fill of the museums, I received a text from a friend whose boyfriend was at the same work conference as my husband asking if we wanted to link up since she’d had the same idea to do a post-conference vacation. Heck yes!

Mardi Gras World

We met at the Drago’s in the hotel and split an alligator po’ boy and a plate of charbroiled oysters. She told me that our respective menfolk would be going to Mardi Gras World for their team building event and that she wanted to see it too. This was something not on my initial research list, and for that I’m ashamed!

It’s really difficult to get the scale of these floats to translate well in photos.

It’s really difficult to get the scale of these floats to translate well in photos.

I’m right up against this one without touching it, but can barely get it in the frame for a selfie.

I’m right up against this one without touching it, but can barely get it in the frame for a selfie.

You can go right up to the floats to look at them with no barriers. This was one of my favorite things we did on our whole trip.

You can go right up to the floats to look at them with no barriers. This was one of my favorite things we did on our whole trip.

Mardi Gras World is where they build and house all of the floats for Mardi Gras. Yes, all of them. After watching a short introductory video about the history of Mardi Gras and how each of the krewes (sub-groups that basically run the whole show) are organized, we got to taste King Cake, a traditional Mardi Gras confection resembling a giant seat cushion and tasting like a cheap grocery store cinnamon roll (Sorry, I think it’s gross). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a little plastic baby in your piece of cake, which if it doesn’t choke you first, means you have to bring next year’s cake and throw a party to boot. That doesn’t seem like a good deal.

King Cake: The only food in New Orleans I didn’t like.

King Cake: The only food in New Orleans I didn’t like.

We then got to tour the warehouse and see all of the build stations for the floats. Most are made out of Styrofoam and coated with papier-mâché, which is then painted and sealed. Some are fiberglass and made from molds, but they are significantly more expensive to produce (to the tune of thousands versus the hundreds a foam float decoration would be). To keep costs low, fiberglass decorations are often repurposed, changed, and repainted year after year.

Here you can see a craftsperson changing up existing fiberglass floats by adding paper mache and paint to last year’s models for a whole new look.

Here you can see a craftsperson changing up existing fiberglass floats by adding paper mache and paint to last year’s models for a whole new look.

If you’re looking for something iconically New Orleans to do, you can’t miss coming here. At $22 with free hotel shuttle pickup, you’d be seriously missing out if you didn’t. I just can hear my maker friends and burners getting revved up to buy their plane tickets. It’s a builder’s paradise, seriously!

Fair warning though, it can get to be a real nightmare factory in here.

Fair warning though, it can get to be a real nightmare factory in here.

More French Quarter and Dinner

I’m pretty lazy and not much of a walker, so these past 3 days of sauntering 3-6 miles daily at a museum’s pace to take in all of the sights was doing a number on my feet and back. The unfortunate thing is that outside of Jackson Square, there aren’t many places to sit in New Orleans that aren’t a bar, in which you are naturally expected to buy a drink per sit. Walking with my friend who had newly arrived and was freshly excited to tour the city was agonizing, but I tried to not let on so I didn’t ruin her time through my wincing.

To my surprise, praline is pronounced “praw-leen” not “pray-leen”, which still just sounds wrong to me.

To my surprise, praline is pronounced “praw-leen” not “pray-leen”, which still just sounds wrong to me.

We visited Southern Candymakers on Decatur Street to buy some of their award-winning pralines. We visited a high-end pen store, Papier Plume, where my friend (an artist working in the animation industry) fell in love with a blown glass dip pen that was buttery smooth to sketch with. I tried it myself but instantly got ink all over my hand, and subsequently everything else. I clearly can’t be trusted, so I leaned on the wall outside the store lest I become liable for any of the expensive goods within. It was there I encountered a gaggle of people dressed as southern dandy vampires stroll by. I thought about taking a picture but assumed they wouldn’t show up in the photo anyway.

Per the suggestion of one of my Twitter followers, we checked out the Court of the Two Sisters for dinner. What we initially thought was an empty dining room at peak dinner hour (a bad sign) was just a small fraction of what turned out to be a much larger restaurant, which opened up to a courtyard nestled among twisted vines and branches decorated with white lights that glowed like fireflies among the patrons. I know I keep saying this, but as a Californian who grew up with the Disneyland version of New Orleans and only just now experiencing “the real thing”, this scene was straight out of the Blue Bayou restaurant at the start of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Crawfish Napoleon at Court of the Two Sisters.

Crawfish Napoleon at Court of the Two Sisters.

Crawfish Napoleon

My Twitter contact had recommended the crawfish etouffeé, which in this application was placed atop an andouille grit cake (basically a thick, fried patty of creamy grits) and a fried green tomato. My friend is mildly allergic to shrimp but not other shellfish, which is unfortunate as the city is practically made of shrimp and shrimp-based foods. After some googling and deciding that since crawfish are basically tiny lobsters and not at all shrimp, she decided to chance it. Spoiler alert: she was fine, and it was totally worth it.   

Southern Comfort Blues

I wasn’t planning on drinking but I’m easily convinced in a place like this. I forgot to write down the exact ingredients this restaurant used, but googling “Southern Blues” or “Southern Comfort Blues” shows up with equal parts Southern Comfort and blueberry schnapps. You can even add SoCo peach if you’re feeling fancy.

Bananas Foster

I hate bananas, which is a sin in the city that was once home to the Scarface of bananas, Sam the Banana Man, but Bananas Foster is a thing you have to try in New Orleans. They were actually invented at Brennan’s, the restaurant I visited on Day 2 for a friend of the Brennan family and chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission, Richard Foster. Bananas Foster consists of bananas that have been caramelized and flambéed tableside in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, banana liqueur, and rum served over vanilla bean ice cream. My friend commented, “If your back and legs are cramping up, bananas are supposed to do wonders for that. I think we should get Bananas Foster. You know, for your pain.” Like a good patient, took my medicine, and wouldn’t you know it, my back felt a little better. I’m sure the booze helped too.

My friend asked me if it were between having to make tableside guacamole or Bananas Foster, which would I choose. Avocados don’t tend to set people on fire on most days, and I’m clumsy.

My friend asked me if it were between having to make tableside guacamole or Bananas Foster, which would I choose. Avocados don’t tend to set people on fire on most days, and I’m clumsy.

My friend asked me if it were between having to make tableside guacamole or Bananas Foster, which would I choose. Avocados don’t tend to set people on fire on most days, and I’m clumsy. 

I did end up having them at Brennan’s (as a breakfast dessert, no less) and I would highly recommend getting them there to hear the history of the dessert and to say you had the original. 

The Quarter at Night

My friend and I decided to call it a night and wander back to the hotel, but she wanted to stop by Bourbon Street on our way back just to say she’s seen it. Throughout my trip, I ended up on Bourbon Street far more times than I would have liked, as it’s one long party avenue that reeks of pee and vomit, but it is a spectacle worth seeing and all of the good restaurants and bars flank it. After three blocks of wandering through pre-Halloween revelers, street performers, and shoe shine scammers, we decided we had enough sensory overload and headed back. On one of the quieter, darker streets, we encountered a drunk man who was swaying aimlessly to and fro. Not sure which direction he was headed, my friend put her arm across me to hang back to see what he was about to do. Just as he leaned away providing a passage for us to pass, she whispered “Go…go go go go” as we zoomed past him. 

“I wouldn’t do that,” he called after us.

We picked up the pace.

Bourbon Street 2 days before Halloween. It was fun, but I’m glad you can’t smell this photo.

Bourbon Street 2 days before Halloween. It was fun, but I’m glad you can’t smell this photo.

I mention these encounters not to dwell on them or scare anyone, but to hopefully illustrate to the ill-informed just how prevalent they can be for many women despite having an otherwise perfectly ordinary day. Before my trip, a male friend had responded to my apprehension of traveling alone that he hated traveling solo because it was lonely and boring. It wasn’t until I mentioned my worst fears of traveling alone in a strange city that he realized our experiences are very, very different, and acknowledged he hadn’t considered darker alternatives because he’s never had to. That’s really all I’m hoping to accomplish by including these incidents in my write-ups. And while crime does exist in New Orleans, if you follow common sense rules of thumb like you would in any major city, you should be fine.  

For the record, I didn’t have any other encounters in the days after when my husband was with me save for one when I waited outside a drug store while he went inside to use the restroom. A man approached me to say “How ‘bout it, beautiful?” He was referring to me giving him cash for the street performance he had apparently been doing close by. Seriously?

The following week and remainder of my vacation was a blur of steamboats, fan boats, alligators, more food, more booze, and of course the delightful chaos of Halloween. While I don’t plan to write up every day of my trip, I will put together a list of the places, sights, restaurants, and bars I researched before my trip and add comments based on my experiences so you can plan your own unforgettable New Orleans experience should you choose to come here, which I highly recommend that you do. Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Read More About My Time in New Orleans

3 Days Alone in New Orleans: Day 2

Due to the previous night’s misunderstanding regarding my tour, the company graciously offered a complimentary tour of my choice the following day. Since I didn’t have plans to be out after dark, I chose their cemetery tour. To start my day off right, I decided to explore one of the local breakfast options I researched.

Breakfast at Brennan’s  

If you look up things to do in New Orleans, the phrase “Breakfast at Brennan’s” is one you’ll encounter again and again, but don’t worry, it’s not empty hype. While I had hoped to go there with my husband once his meetings were done, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating at the same place twice if it’s good, so I decided to investigate. You know, for science. Delicious, delicious science.

I arrived just as the restaurant had opened at 9, which seems oddly late to me for a place that aggressively advertises breakfast. I’ve since learned that “morning” here seems to start much, much later than what I’m used to in “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” California. Upon entering, I was greeted with the ice cream-like colors the green, pink, and white, which flowed through the dining room before opening up into a peaceful European courtyard. My first thought was, “Wow, Disneyland totally ripped them off.” This is true of the French Quarter in general, but this was my first daytime taste of just how true this is.

Eggs Hussarde and a Caribbean Milk Punch at Brennan’s.

Eggs Hussarde and a Caribbean Milk Punch at Brennan’s.

Eggs Hussarde

Their signature brunch dish, Brennan’s Eggs Hussarde is a spin on Eggs Benedict, made with English muffins (no Thomas brand here, these are homemade), coffee cured Canadian bacon, hollandaise, and marchand de vin sauce, which is a savory blend of chopped mushrooms, ham, shallots, onion, garlic, and red wine. The addition of this sauce made what would have been an otherwise outstanding Eggs Benedict into a tangy, mouth-watering, next-level creation that I’m absolutely going to have to try making at home.

Caribbean Milk Punch

On my list of the signature cocktails to try in New Orleans, Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch came up repeatedly. I asked the waiter what he thought, and he said he preferred their Caribbean Milk Punch, which is similar, but made with rum instead of brandy. I’m more of a rum fan anyway, so I took his recommendation. It tastes like what I feel eggnog should be; deliciously frothy and creamy, well-balanced in the rum, a nice vanilla bean finish, not overly spiced. I’m not a fan of eggnog, but I’m glad I tried this drink, if anything for the novelty. I will warn you though—It’s listed on the menu as an “eye-opener” but the after effects milk-punched me back to bed for a post-brunch nap as the day progressed.

Streetcar Loop

After breakfast, I walked down Royal Street towards my tour meetup spot at Rouse’s Market, thinking I could make it to the 10 AM tour. As I walked, an elderly British couple approached me.

“Are you a local?”
“No, sorry, I’m a tourist.”

“Do you know how to get to Rouse’s Market?”

“I’m headed that way, actually! Here, you can follow me.”

As we walked, I noticed that the scenery didn’t begin to look familiar, so I opened the map on my phone to find that Royal street is actually incredibly long and I was a mile away. I had only 10 minutes to spare, there was no way I could walk a mile that quickly! I sheepishly turned to the couple and told them what was up. They looked at me like I had purposely led them astray before shuffling off in the opposite direction. Hey, I said I wasn’t a local!

I rescheduled my tour for later in the day and continued walking when I realized the street had gotten quieter and less populated. Fewer people were walking with purpose and more were just…loitering. This gave me a very bad feeling, like in a video game where the bad guy characters walk around in their same set loop until they “notice” you and come in for the kill. Just as I was thinking that, I evidently got too close to one of these loops, as a man who was walking around in circles aimlessly locks eyes with me and menacingly says “Heeeeey mama…” before moving towards me.

Canal Street evidently flashed someone its tits.

Canal Street evidently flashed someone its tits.

I picked up the pace just in time for the street to open up to Canal Street, which I learned later is considered the widest street in the United States. A perfect place to blend in! Just then, I noticed the street car pull up, and since it was on my list of things to do, I took the opportunity to get a day pass (just $3!) and ride it in a loop to see the neighborhood and put Royal Street behind me.

The Canal Street line (or red line) takes you up through downtown and to one of the cemeteries, then back down to the waterfront and French Market. As I rode, I noticed just how many “old”-style townhouses there were, with people of every class living in them, some being turned into businesses. There was one block where every single old home had been turned into a law office. A law district?

Just some of the older-style homes in the area.

Just some of the older-style homes in the area.

I make note of this because in California, many of the old, Victorian-era homes that haven’t been turned into historical monuments are either subdivided to be multi-family rentals or only attainable by the rich. It’s rare for an “everyman” to own one, and I think this is mostly due to short supply. We have earthquakes and fires that have destroyed a lot of these homes, whereas this area, which was mostly spared by Katrina in terms of flooding, enabled these older homes to age with the community rather than making way for newer buildings. Many were in disrepair, some were abandoned, but they continued to exist for 100 years or more, which was really remarkable to me.

After a bit of a ride, I was beginning to really feel the effects of the milk punch and went back to my hotel for a nap.

A Year and a Day: Visiting New Orleans’ Oldest Cemetery

Later in the afternoon, I met up with my tour group to visit the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (there are two) which was founded in 1789 and is the oldest still-active cemetery in New Orleans. As we walked, I learned about the types of domestic architecture in the French Quarter, and that due to so many trial-and-error burial attempts in the early founding of this city in the swamp, that there are many unaccounted for bodies buried beneath current buildings. Apparently, someone recently tried digging to build a pool but ended up unearthing over 15 coffins, some dating from the late 1700s. The real kicker of this story is that they still finished that pool, and uh, good luck with that one, buddy. I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it plays out.

poltergeist.gif

Cemeteries in New Orleans have above-ground tombs rather than traditional graves. This is due to a combination of the European settlers to the area already having above-ground burial traditions, but the more gruesome reason is because it’s very difficult to bury people in a swamp. You can stop reading here if you’re easily grossed out. 

Still with me? Ok.

Due to ground saturation, ordinary coffins will float and pop up out of the ground, and waterlogged bodies don’t decompose as efficiently as dry graves, which can create a health hazard. Some of the tombs in the cemetery had coffins buried below the ground but with a stone “lid” to keep things in place, but the majority were the above-ground tombs New Orleans is famous for. 

I wondered how bodies decompose when encased in marble tombs. Our tour guide explained that coffins are put into a wall vault or “oven vault”, which means they’re sealed up in a stone wall for a full year and a day after burial. One full year is sufficient enough time for the sub-tropical heat and stone encasing to essentially slow-cremate the body, leaving just bone and dust. After that time, they then open the wall, sweep out the remnants with a broom, and place them in their assigned tomb for all blessed eternity. The full year is customary, but the extra day is tradition. After learning this, I think that “A Year and a Day” would make for an awesome title for a supernatural thriller, don’t you think?

Nicolas Cage’s Future Burial Site

Among the 200+ year tombs is one that appears very out of place, architecturally speaking. As mentioned in my previous post, actor Nicolas Cage is a New Orleans super fan. Despite not being a native, he is viewed as somewhat of a local cryptid and mischief maker, from being routinely drunk and disorderly, to getting arrested at a French Quarter bar by none other than Dog the Bounty Hunter, to losing not one but two French Quarter houses to the IRS, including the famed (and incredibly, incredibly haunted) LaLaurie mansion. But there is one thing the IRS can’t repossess: your tomb.

Really Nic? A pyramid?

Really Nic? A pyramid?

This white pyramid is the future burial site of Nicolas Cage. The inscription reads “Omni Ab Uno” meaning “Everything from One”. He also purchased space in front of his tomb, one can only assume to ensure the view in his eternal place of rest isn’t obstructed by “general rabble”. Way to plan ahead, Nic.

Marie Laveau

The gravesite I wanted to see most was that of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. She is a local celebrity, most recently played by Angela Bassett in American Horror Story: Coven. She was a hairdresser by trade, having her own beauty parlor that served the wealthy elite of New Orleans, so her gravesite is littered with offerings of hair ties and bobby pins. The cemetery has prohibited the leaving of offerings, as it became an issue of littering and made walking through nearly impossible, but people still find ways of leaving a little something.

Marie Laveau's Tomb.JPG

The noteworthy thing about her tomb is that people frequently request her to bless them from beyond the grave. The practice is to draw three X’s on her tomb, knock three times while chanting her name, and ask her to fulfill your heart’s desire. If it’s granted, you’re supposed to come back to the site and circle the X’s. You can also leave an offering of sprinkling gin or whiskey on her grave, a cigar, anything to make her happy and offer a gift in exchange for her magical favors.

Naturally, the site’s preservationists discourage this behavior as it’s defacing a gravesite and historical marker, so this cemetery can’t be visited without a tour guide and motions are taken to prevent folks from drawing on her tomb. Still, fresh X’s had clearly been left despite the caretakers’ best efforts.

It’s hard to compose good photographs in this place when you’re trying to not step on someone’s grave.

It’s hard to compose good photographs in this place when you’re trying to not step on someone’s grave.

Despite what you’d assume, her tomb is very non-descript, so people have mistaken 2 other tombs as hers within this same cemetery, which are referred to as “Faux Laveaus”. X’s are left on these tombs as well, for good measure. If you’re already breaking the law, might as well make it count I guess!

When we left the cemetery, you’re supposed to walk out backwards while kissing your fingers on your right hand. That way the spirits know you’re not speaking ill of them. I’d never.

Dinner at Dat Dog

After the cemetery tour, I hopped the streetcar and rode it all the way past the riverfront and down to the French Market to indulge in one of the restaurants on my list, Dat Dog, which makes their dogs from unusual local ingredients.

There are only 16 colors you’re allowed to paint your building in the French Quarter to maintain historical ambiance. Somehow Dat Dog got around all of them.

There are only 16 colors you’re allowed to paint your building in the French Quarter to maintain historical ambiance. Somehow Dat Dog got around all of them.

Walking through this part of the quarter made me a bit anxious, as I needed to pass a few dive bars and tattoo parlors with their patrons spilling out into the street. Daylight was on my side, but it didn’t prevent me from getting some uncomfortable glances. “Hey girl, you sure have pretty hair,” said one man as I walked past. Regardless of if it was a genuine compliment or a catcall, I looked him straight in the eyes and said very enthusiastically, “A hwhy thank yewwwwww!”

Finally I arrived at my destination and ordered a much needed beer (a local Amber, Abita).

Crawfish Etouffee Dog

The item I was especially excited to try was the crawfish etouffee dog, made from a crawfish sausage (it’s as unusual as it sounds), homemade crawfish etouffee, sour cream, tomatoes, and creole mustard.

Crawfish Etouffee Dog from Dat Dog.

Crawfish Etouffee Dog from Dat Dog.

I sat out on the patio taking in the sights and sounds of the district, watching people in costumes walk by: a Sriracha bottle, a lobster, Baron Samedi, more than a few vampires, and the Pink Power Ranger who turned around and flipped off someone yelling at her.

I wish I had the patience to draw all of the detailed ornamentation, or to draw buildings at all, but alas, I do not.

I wish I had the patience to draw all of the detailed ornamentation, or to draw buildings at all, but alas, I do not.

I also attempted to draw the local architecture for a bit before heading back to the hotel to avoid being out in this area past nightfall. I felt like a quitter, but I’d had a pretty full day, and tomorrow’s another one.

Read More About My Time in New Orleans

3 Days Alone in New Orleans: Day 1

My husband had a business trip in New Orleans close to Halloween, so we decided to cross this bucket list item off our list and extend the stay to a week! Halloween in New Orleans (Hallorleans?) was surely going to be an unforgettable time. Unfortunately, with my husband’s work conference and our travel schedule, this meant I would spend the first 3 days in the city all by myself.

I admit it. Beyond the initial excitement of planning this trip was the nagging worry of overall safety. After all, being a lone woman traveling in an unfamiliar city can, and sadly often does, end in becoming a tragic trending hashtag on social media, allowing strangers to admonish your still-warm corpse for your stupidity for daring to exist outdoors after dark.

But I was determined to not live in fear and just stick to the common-sense rules of travel that every woman (hopefully) already knows:

  • No alleys

  • Stay in well-lit areas

  • Stick to populated areas

  • If you turn down a street that looks like you shouldn’t be there, you’re right

But thousands of people travel to New Orleans without incident, the majority of which are drunk out of their skulls (if the rich…um… “patina” on Bourbon Street that is rinsed off nightly is any indicator), the odds are in my favor as long as I play it smart.

That’s why I decided to book a tour. Safety in numbers, a predetermined group to travel in at night, plus I have the added bonus of getting my bearings within the city for my week ahead.

But first, dinner.

First Meal in New Orleans: Drago’s

In my preliminary research when scoping out places to eat, Drago’s kept coming up as one of the must-try places in the area. A local chain, Drago’s specializes in seafood, more specifically their oysters, and even more specifically, their charbroiled oysters. 

Staying at the Hilton Riverside, they conveniently had a Drago’s attached to the hotel, so I decided to grab a bite here before I set out for the evening.

Drago’s: Charbroiled oysters, shrimp and corn bisque, and a hurricane to drink.

Drago’s: Charbroiled oysters, shrimp and corn bisque, and a hurricane to drink.

Half-Dozen Charbroiled Oysters

Drago’s signature item, the oysters are brushed with garlic, butter, and herbs and dusted with a blend of parmesan and Romano cheeses before cooking them on a hot grill. They look breaded (to my surprise as they are listed as a gluten free item) but it’s just the blend of hard cheeses. They were reminiscent of Oysters Rockefeller in mouthfeel, but were amazingly savory and absolutely dripping with garlicky butter sauce (the better to mop up with your baguette!) 

Shrimp and Corn Bisque

Being in the land of gumbo, I thought about going bold and getting some here. But the siren song of the bisque called to me, so I asked my waitress for her opinion. Her default service staff demeanor gave way to inherent personal joy as she looked over her shoulder and said with a thick Cajun accent, “Get the bisque. The gumbo here is…it’s okay. But they don’t use the traditional recipe, and in my opinion, too much tomato. There are millions of places around here to get gumbo, but the bisque is good.” That’s enough of a recommendation for me! And it definitely paid off. The bisque was more like a thick and hearty stew of corn, shrimp, and crab bits all simmered together with a satisfying spicy bite at the end. I regret that I only got the cup, I could have polished off a bowl, maybe even a trough.  

Hurricane

A hurricane is one of the signature cocktails of New Orleans, consisting of rum, rum, rum, and fruit juice. While THE place to get it is at its birthplace, Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter, this was on special this evening. This was my first sampling of how strong the folks in New Orleans make their cocktails though, as one of these could have put me to bed. But the city awaits!

The French Quarter

I took my Lyft to where my tour was scheduled to meet, but found I had more than an hour to kill. Immediately the general vibe of the area felt within my acceptable limits of safety, so I decided to walk around to pass the time.

Blurry selfie on Bourbon Street. Blur-bon Street.

Blurry selfie on Bourbon Street. Blur-bon Street.

My tour company’s proprietor, Voodoo Bone Lady, has her own shop right near the meeting location, so I decided to go inside. The shop prohibits photos, so I have nothing to show here, but it’s a small shop with informational plaques on what voodoo is and what it isn’t, ensuring you that you’re entering into a safe space that you are welcome. I browsed through herbs, trinkets, voodoo dolls. It’s a common misconception that voodoo dolls are used to harm, but it’s actually the opposite; they’re used to lure positive vibes towards yourself or wish them on another person. There are multiple voodoo shops within the French Quarter, and if you are like me and enjoy the general vibe of metaphysical bookstores, they’re fun to browse.

I suddenly heard the sound that every movie featuring New Orleans has trained my ears to understand as the audible cue for the setting, a second line parade. So, quick factoid I learned: the “main line” or “first line” is the brass band itself that leads, while the second line is anyone that follows them, forming a parade. In short, they’re a jazz funeral without a body. These parades are a daily occurrence, because anyone in New Orleans can have the cops block off a portion of the street so they can have their own parade, for a nominal fee of course.

As I walked, I found myself near Jackson Square and suddenly…alone. I put my back up against the wall of a tavern and flipped out my phone to look at my map. The second the soft blue glow of the screen hit my face, a man emerged from the shadows of the square and immediately started towards me. Noticing him, I put my phone away, to which he commented, “Aw, I can’t use your phone then?” “No, sorry.” Why did I say sorry? I walked on, keeping an ear out to see if he followed but staying well within the view of the bar patrons who were inside facing out the windows. I found a mother and daughter walking the opposite direction with their standard poodle, so I joined their flock and followed wherever they were headed just to put some space between myself and what other surprises lurked in the square.

When I took a closer look at my surroundings, I saw that Jackson Square was populated by little pop-up fortune telling booths. Lone tarot card readers, fortune tellers, and voodoo practitioners had set out small folding tables covered with table cloths and tea light candles to read the palms of tourists and passersby. I noticed that the guy who had talked to me had found another (male) tourist to occupy his time who actually seemed to be eating up everything he was saying. He then leaned down and put toothpaste on the tips of each of the man’s shoes, saying, “There. You’re in New Orleans now.”

Haunted Tour

Because it’s me, my first tour had to have a haunted slant to it. I chose Voodoo Bone Lady’s 5-1 Haunted Tour where you learn about ghosts, pirates, vampires, witches, and voodoo. Our tour guide, Brian, is like a human megaphone, which was especially useful to hear the tour information over the din of drunken revelers and bar music. As we began walking at night in the French Quarter, I became keenly aware of how many haunted and night time tours this city has to offer, with every corner busy with a different tour group. This mishmash of haunted lore right within earshot allowed me to indulge in my guilty pleasure of eavesdropping.

“…And everyone was bleeding from the mouth…”

 

“Back in the day they didn’t have many surgical options available, so they’re going to tell you that that arm has gotta come off!”

 

“Bonafide! Prison! For vampires!”

 

That last one was a story about the history of the Ursuline convent, which if you take the time to look it up, is like a combination of an Anne Rice novel and a Seinfeld episode.  

The LaLaurie house. A “real” haunted house decorated for Halloween.

The LaLaurie house. A “real” haunted house decorated for Halloween.

We learned about how you can dine with the ghost that haunts Muriel’s restaurant and other haunting tales, but the stop I was really looking forward to learning more about was the LaLaurie house. Owned by socialite Delphine LaLaurie in the mid-1800’s (and more recently, actor and all around NOLA superfan, Nicolas Cage), it is known as being the most haunted house in all of New Orleans, and for good reason. Madame LaLaurie tortured her slaves in unspeakable ways in this house, and it was found out about in the middle of one of her lavish dinner parties when one such slave intentionally set the stove on fire to alert the authorities. No “it was said”, no “legend tells”. This was real, and it is on court record.

I’m a fan of American Horror Story: Coven and loved Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Madame LaLaurie, but even the fantastical depictions of what went on in this house doesn’t hold a candle to the truth (warning, not for the faint of heart). It’s now owned by an oil man who uses it as his vacation home maybe twice per year. In my opinion, if you buy a notorious haunted house, you go all in, you don’t dip your toe into the curse pool and go “Woo that was refreshing!” What a waste of a good haunted mansion.

Alone in NOLA

The next stop was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, founded by the pirate and bad boy hero of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte. It’s the oldest continually operating bar in the U.S. (yes, even during prohibition. Pirates gotta pirate, apparently), and their signature cocktail is the Voodoo Daiquiri, aka: “Purple Drank” because it tastes like grape Kool-Aid. I didn’t partake, but instead waited at the spot our tour guide indicated. And waited. And waited.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop: Never a blacksmith shop, always a front for debauchery.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop: Never a blacksmith shop, always a front for debauchery.

I kept looking around and my tour guide, nor the tourists I was with, was anywhere to be seen. I saw a gutter punk wearing Little Ceaser’s Hot-N-Ready shirt singing Sex Pistols songs on a grungy acoustic guitar to another gutter punk with a broken leg, literally sitting in the gutter. I saw an 8-year-old kid wildly tugging along a small pitbull mix named Po’Boy yelling at him “Stop pulling, you little asshole!” I saw a man who was somehow wearing every article of clothing imaginable, including a pith helmet with rubber ducks glued onto it, but somehow lacking shoes. But I didn’t see my tour guide.

This is it. I’ve been ditched. My worst fear has come true. I’m alone at night in a strange city, far away from my hotel and not sure what to do next. I called the tour company and they gave me the next stop via walking street directions to meet my group. They’re not there. I call back, the tour had apparently ended and I wasn’t on it to see the rest! After some talking and apologies, I was promised a complimentary tour the next day for my trouble, a gracious make good offer, but what do I do now?

Oh, right. It’s 2018. I called a Lyft.

 

Read More About My Time in New Orleans