Date of Trip: August 2015
Since my kid takes US History this year in middle school, I gave her three options for our summer trip: Boston and New England, Washington DC and Virginia, New Orleans and the Mississippi River. At her age my folks took us to Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown where I’m pictured wearing a tricorn hat. Naturally when we studied the Revolution I had one epiphany after another. That’s what I wanted for her–an immersive experience that will zap her like a lightning bolt in that classroom some time this year.
Since she chose New Orleans, I threw in a cruise aboard Carnival Elation since the hotel she also chose, the Q & C, has no pool. The girl loves water slides.
Booking our flights through Expedia was no problem, even having to swallow the baggage fees. I wanted us to have the most time in New Orleans so I paid for nonstop early morning departure and the last nonstop back home at night. Okay, it’s a vacation, right?
New Orleans in summer is as hot and humid as you’d expect. Being from the capital of hot and humid, Miami, we’re used to it and never let it slow us down. Lots of ways to get refreshed.
Loved our hotel totally. We were treated like respected family, the rooms were comfortable and well-equipped, interesting details and art, fantastic food and drink at reasonable prices. The cafe au lait and beignets were every bit as good as that really famous place in the French Quarter.
No shortage of things to see and do, although the place is still rebounding after Katrina a decade ago. Lots of construction and restoration going on, although whole blocks of ruin and slabs lacking structures can still be found. Interesting how the Cabildo, our country’s first multi-family apartment building now housing the Louisiana State Museum, displays a boat that rescued 400 people and Fats Domino’s storm-ruined piano as you walk in. For my daughter, it was important that the Louisiana Purchase agreement was signed here.
St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square still provide the Crescent City’s most identifiable visual backdrop. Bells still toll for mass at the nation’s oldest Catholic church. Engraved in stone are the names of some of the wealthiest and most influential families in Louisiana, most with French surnames.
Many of those names belonged to families that owned the large plantations along the riverfront 30 miles west of the city. Some of those plantations–their homes gardens and fields, can be toured. Two of the most fascinating are Oak Alley, which also provides accommodations and features a Greek-Revival main house, and Laura, an original Creole-style plantation house that will make you think you’re somewhere in the Caribbean. Both have slave quarters that illustrate and demonstrate the complete experience of human life as a piece of property.
When the nation decided to build a museum to commemorate World War 2 and house all the weapons and memorabilia collected from that war, many people didn’t understand why New Orleans was selected as the site. It doesn’t take an entire day to learn the reason, but it will to see it completely and fully appreciate the depth and breadth of its collection and the creativity employed in its presentation. Be prepared for at least one heart-wrenching moment. As I stood there gazing at my dad’s airplane with tears rolling down my cheeks, my daughter asked me what was wrong. I smiled as I explained and as she saluted her grandpa. She knows who Andrew Higgins was.
Congo Square, the Garden District, French Market, Treme all have their charms and local color. No, we didn’t go bar-hopping on Bourbon Street but we did some shopping (bought a cool red beans ‘n’ rice bow tie at NOLA Couture)in the French Quarter and stopped in at every store that had the word “Voodoo” in the name.
Unquestionably this continues to be one of America’s best food towns. People here, in addition to being warm, friendly and hospitable, just plain love to cook and eat well. Memorable dishes we feasted on included cheese grits at the Q & C, soft shell crab at K-Paul’s, brisket with horseradish sauce at Tujague’s, pork shoulder and alligator tail at Cochon, fried chicken at Willie Mae’s and Dooky Chase’s famous jambalaya.
We think the alligator they serve at Cochon comes from the Cajun tour operator who took us on an airboat trip around the swamps and bayous in Jean Lafitte National Park. However you feel about naming a national park after a pirate it was definitely an eye-opener of an excursion. I had no idea the oil industry builds drilling platforms and distribution points in such remote areas. The barge traffic was quite a surprise. Perhaps it was the time of day but I noticed more F-16s screaming overhead than birds. Highlight was the fake smile on my daughter’s face masking her fear as she held that baby gator in both hands.
Highlight for me during the entire, most entertaining and satisfying trip, was re-discovering my love for bourbon whiskey in the form of a Sazerac cocktail.