Thursday, 7 August 2014

riding west - New Orleans - This city's got it all

We arrived in New Orleans early Monday afternoon and imidiately did what I imagine many people who are visiting the city for the first time do; paid way too much for parking and headed straight for the french quarter, bourbon street to be exact . Of course we're not headed to bourbon to drink excecively and gauk at gift shops (not today at least) we're headed there to perform to the people who are getting drunk. It being a Monday we're not expecting much, Mondays are generally slow nights for buskers but we figure "whatever" it's all cash it the bank .

Boy we're we wrong , Bourbon street is packed , it's everything you've heard about: neon lights every two feet, intoxicated people clinging to day-glow plastic cups full of equally colorful cocktails stumbbling down the street , strippers lean out of clubs beckoning the passers by to take in the show and the music is deafening .
We made some of our best money on Monday and the week days and evenings that followed . You'd think the weekends where the money is ,and yeah if your a human statue or if you let people take your picture in exchange for tips maybe it is. For us the weekend is a circus , if you thought there were an excessive amount of bars during the week , it goes double for Friday night. it's virtually impossible to find a spot and if you do your likely to be deafened, trampled or both.
Anyway Monday was our first day , we busked on Bourbon street for a few days before we were joined by Calhoun's father (Rod ) .

We already knew a little about the city having been there for a few days , so we meet up with him at 3$ parking. if your visiting the French quarter but not staying there I highly recommend it, 3$ buys you 10 hours of parking by the Basin street visitors center right in the French quarter .

We head down to the river, yes the Mississippi, It runs right along  side the city. there's an enjoyable river walk and a couple of wooden staircases that go down into the water where you can (as we did ) soak
your feet in the river's supposed healing properties . I wouldn't rely on them though as the water is muddy and probably dirty, I mean it's running through a huge city. but it's fun to do on a hot day .
After our quick soak in the Mississippi we take in a New Orleans tradition, Beignets , fluffy fried , sugar powdery amazingness . They fry them up (not surprisingly) at café Beignet a block down from the river next to Jackson square .
Artists selling their wares set up surrounding the square on the weekend. after our Beignets and tea we stroll casually by them. Across from them a family of brass band musicians busk, down the street a huddle of local kids are busking too , tap dancing

with coke cans on their sneakers . All beneath elaborate decorative architecture reminiscent of parts of Paris .it's so New Orleans you just can't help but stop and stare at the diverse everyday scene taking place before your eyes.
We plan to be in New Orleans for two more weeks as does Rod. we agree to check into a hotel and after a couple of hours of scouring every online booking site known to man I find us a reasonable rate on a dog friendly hotel at the Mid Town Hotel. It couldn't be that easy could it? when we arrive the friendly desk clerk wants to meet Glimmer (my fish) I'm happy to oblige , seeing her interest in Glimmer , Rod invites her to see the dog . Here's where the trouble starts. the hotel is not, as Expidia advertised, pet friendly . The staff at the Mid Town it bears mentioning are very helpful and patient allowing us to stay anyway provided we pay a deposit and an extra fee for the dog . So Calhoun spends the next two hours explaining the situation to various Expidia employees (all equally useless) until they finally agree to pay the extra fee for the dog . I mean it's their mistake and we're sure as hell not paying for it .
By the time we're in our room we're all so exhausted and irritable all we want to do is precisely what we end up doing; eat pizza and watch westerns. not so bad as all that after all and it is nice to be in a real bed.

Next day we take Rod for a traditional breakfast. 4lbs of boiled crawfish , they're a bit of work but worth it . There are dozens of restaurants in the French quarter serving the flavorful crustaceans but if you want the real Orleanais experience head over to Mid City and visit Cajun Bros. A seafood market that serves boiled crawfish by the pound in a plastic bag with a tray to dump them out on then dig in. Also on the menu (such as it is) po-boys, grilled oysters and a few other local favorites , like crawfish pie a little cheesy crawfish delight I highly recommend  .
What started as a two week stop in New Orleans to busk is rapidly turning into impromptu family vacation as Calhoun's mom ( Lulu) calls to let us know she will be joining us the next morning from all the way up in Dawson city, Yukon.
We pick her up bright and early from Louis Armstrong international airport , it seems like there isn't a public structure in this city that isn't named after the famous musician.
We grab breakfast at the IHOP downtown , yeah it's a chain but hey pancakes are good especially when you've just spent 23 hours in transit and are both hungry and falling asleep.
Calhoun looking a lot like Dennis Hopper
After pancake breakfast we take a short dog walk through the St Louis cemetery (#1) if any of you have seen and love Easy Rider like I do you have to visit here becase this is where that whole tripping out in the cemetery sequence was shot. For those of you who are intrigued by the whole voodoo vibe this is also the resting place of voodoo's most famous icon Marie Leveau.
We return to the hotel for a pleasant swim and a rest for Lulu , the preparing of the nights super by Calhoun . What's on the menu? Corn breaded catfish fried to perfection along side Spanish rice and collard greens , no joke this was one of the best meals I had in New Orleans and that's saying something.
A good sleep in a real bed and now for some tourist stuff. City park is the home of The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) , and it is just that they show a complete and broad spectrum of eras , styles and genres. My favorite the work of Alexis Rockman, in particular Battle Royale, a panoramic swamp scene packed with vibrant creatures. The museum over all though complete in it's collections is a bit lack luster . Adjacent to NOMA is it's sculpture garden, which is worth taking in , like the rest of the museum it exhibits a broad and complete collection, presented in a pretty little park. manicured walk ways wind beside the pond out of which modern sculptures tower creating an attractive mixture of garden and fine art. It's a pleasant stroll unfortunately they do not allow dogs so Girlie was unable to join us.
Our next excursion was a bit of wild goose chase , to try and see the Bayou Savage Wildlife
cornbreaded catfish
refuge we spent most of our day driving around the depressing abandoned wreckage of Katrina desperately trying to figure out where or how to see much of anything , my advice don't bother there are a few short board walks where you might see and alligator but it's poorly maintained and confusing.
There was a silver lining though a local gas station/meat market/restaurant The Chef Discount meat market yeah I know it doesn't sound convincingly delicious, but it is. The place is packed with locals

(always a good sign) we order up Gumbo, boudian balls (meat, chilies, onions and rice rolled into a

ball and fried) and yakamein, (traditional Louisiana soup made with noodles beef or pork and boiled eggs) all very meaty very salty , very tasty.
What better way to finish a day than scoot over to the French quarter, For New Orleans most powerful drink, The Hand Grenade! what's in it? who knows but they're good and they live up to their reputation. Two of these and you'll find your self doing headstands in Lafayette park in the middle of the night.
Okay enough drinking on Bourbon street, lets visit Oak street an up and coming neighborhood it's a cute little street that almost makes you forget your in the metropolis of New Orleans . Boutique shops , modern restaurants, well kept suburban style streets and homes and Squeal. A typically untypical BBQ joint . Their pork belly Sandwich won Oak street's po-boy festival competition and as Calhoun says "when sandwiches win things I want to try them", this sandwich truly is a winner ,also worthy of mention because they're amazing, their black eyed pea egg rolls. I've never had anything like them and that's a shame. Seriously if your in New Orleans you gotta try this place , neon pigs along side local art for sale , a claw machine filled with plush pigs , smoker on the front lawn. great food that is a little fusion but hey, so is New Orleans.
Where do you go when you have raging hangover and are full of BBQ, the insectarium staring at bugs is fun and the butterfly garden modeled after a Japanese flower garden is surprisingly tranquil to
spite the caged widows that look out on to busy city streets.
For dinner another local favorite cooked up by our personal chef (Calhoun) shrimp and grits, If your not from the southern states it seems a little weird but trust me it's good ,mixed with cheese and sun dried tomatoes, splashed with hot or BBQ sauce , consumed in mass quantities and washed down with bourbon and lemonade.
Which brings me to my next point the south loves it's hot sauce and after a visit to The Pepper Palace on Decatur street you will know why . Here you can sample 100s of different hot sauces in every style you can imagine and some you'll wonder how anyone could think up. The hottest sauce in the store ;Flashbang' you have to sign a
moonshine on the Mississippi.
here you can get 'shine at the grocery store
waver to try it , it's that hot, though surprisingly flavorful.
After burning your face off to the point you feel like running down the street screaming for milk you might , I don't know maybe want to take in a refreshing beverage. Like Moonshine drunk out of a jar while looking out over the Mississippi prehaps.
A trip, any trip to New Orleans would not be complete with out music. today that's our mission and we've got a good local line on where to find some but first food.
Antoine's is famous , like really famous, with good reason. Widely held as one of the best restaurants in New Orleans celebrities and politicians have been dining here for decades , we're here for their Jazz brunch. First impressions this place is huge I mean cavernous I got lost looking for the washroom for like ten minutes.
To start Oyster's Rockefeller , Antoine's invented them and their exquisite ,I can say with no doubt in my mind you could live to be a 100 and travel the world and never have an Oyster Rockefeller as good.
Now a mimosa and on to brunch , I order a crab stuffed omelet topped with creole sauce this omelet it bears mentioning is enormous if it wasn't so delectable I couldn't have finished it but what can I say I love good food. For Calhoun shrimp remoulade and sherry alligator potage now neither of these are things I particularly like but I have to say the potage is spectacular Rod and Lulu have the eggs benadict and the eggs sardu poached perfectly.
Dessert anyone ? sure why not I mean it's not like I'm so full of divine ambrosia I could literally explode and that would be okay.
Another Antoine's classic. Baked Alaska is another one of these menu items I deeply love and order all over the world , this one is exceptional and huge billed as serving two this could easily feed six we split it between four and can barely finish.
Finish we do and are treated to a walking tour of this remarkable family run business that has been serving New Orleans since 1840, if you ask your waiter he will do the same for you , it's surprisingly informative and interesting and though you may have to waddle through with a full belly, it's worth it .
After brunch we detour through the gorgeous Louis Armstrong park and head over to Frenchmen street in the Treme district of the city yes there's music on Bourbon but it's not like Frenchmen .

Replace drunken tourists with bohemian hippies, plastic cups with trendy cocktails and generic jazz with genuine local music and you've got Frenchman street .
We visit a few places the most notable for me anyway is VASO a slick cocktail lounge where up beat live blues fills the air and fruity cocktails fill the tables. Lulu and I order hurricanes, another cocktail
Willie locket & the blues krewe
that calls New Orleans home, Pat O'Brian's invented them but I think VASO's are better although you would be forgiven for thinking they had served you a fruit salad until you try it.
So our first attempt to see some of Louisiana outside of the city was a failure but our second trip to Fountainblue state park is a definite success . The park is on lake Pontchartrain where you can swim and dig for clams if you like and Girlie can come too, she actually even went swimming . There's also trails which I'm happy about , don't bother with the Alligator board walk it's a short uninteresting walk to a four foot wooden board unceremoniously dumped in a marsh , instead try the Bayou cane hiking trail which is long a beautiful. Within your first few steps you'll been surrounded by  a rainbow of dragonflies. never have I seen more types of dragonflies than in Louisiana as I walked this trail I tried to photograph as many as I could just to show the others the sheer amount of them . As you head down the trail you notice that each genus controls a different section this 100 feet all small and green the next large and red, then swift and golden and it go's on. For a good portion of my walk I was accompanied by three medium sized baby blue ones ( by far the most friendly) hitching a ride on my arms as  we pass though other tribes tretory.

harvesting clams at Fountain blue state park
I return to find Calhoun and his parents have harvested enogth clams to feed a small army , I supposed you've guessed whats for dinner ? Clam po-boys prepared by the pool surrounded by curious children also resdents of the Mid town hotel.
I've never been to a wax museum and neither has Calhoun so naturaly we want to go there's one on Conti street in the French quarter, that though a little run down it's a decent look into the history of the city . The best part, the final exibit is a creepy walk through famous horrer movie scenes. As you leave a hairy cyclops and a youge Louis Armstrong behind you walk back out on to Conti street. 
When a friendly local sitting on a street corner with her niece enjoying a baking hot day summer day in Treme goes out of their way to insist you have to see the museum across the street you gotta go right? Such is the tale of how we ended up at the Back street Cultural Museum , I'll start by telling you we were all dubious of this place , from the out side it looks like a crumbling shack like dwelling with bars on the windows and a bell your instructed to ring if you want to see the museum . We arrive in the middle of the day when it is supposedly open , no answer at the bell so we figure oh well that wasn't totally unexpected . It's at that moment a pick up truck rattles round the corner out of which
climbs an elderly man with a cane "you here for the tour come in , come in 8 $" once the delightfully disorganized proprietor has taken your money (cash only ) and beckoned  you in you shuffle into a room filled to the gills with some of the most amazing and elaborate Mardi Gras costumes you've ever seen. Be prepared for the tour to start four or five times as more people ring the bell and are ushered in it's worth it though this is so New Orleans , so Treme even you can't help but enjoy it . The museum is comprised of two rooms and a hallway the first room dedicated solely to costumes donated to the museum by bygone Mardi Gras Chiefs the , the second a mixture of second line and Jazz funeral memrobeilia . The Owner( the disorganized elderly fellow who ushers you in) is a photographer and film maker or as he would put it a "camera man", the hallway of the museum is lined with his photographs and awards presented to both him and the museum. In short if you find your self in New Orleans and don't pay this place a visit you'll be missing out , It is without doubt one of the most amusing and genuine looks into New Orleans culture you can buy.
Now more drinks , and culture (sort of ) Lafitte's blacksmith shop is the oldest bar in the U.S.A established 1772, it's relatively untamperd with meaning it's a short one room stone building with cobblestone floors, rafters and a small courtyard on one side and who doesn't want to have a bourbon on Bourbon street at the oldest bar in the states .
hurricanes & dueling pianos  
Then on to Pat O'Brian's , home of the hurricane and the only place in the city that still does dueling pianos. The show is all requests and a lot of fun especially if you've had a couple of their signature drinks , and in New Orleans tradition you get to keep the glass. Let me put it this way when I get back to Canada half my cupboard if going to be full of complementary cocktail glasses from Bourbon street.
Our last day in New Orleans is rapidly approaching so lets get more food! Café Soule is across the street from Antione's  and is a fine little eatery it's self , serving up fusion creole food I recommend their happy hour menu . Original cocktails and fun delicious nibbles like fried green tomato BLT sliders or crawfish etouffee served over fries with baked cheese on top . It's cheep it's funky and awesome.
Next, fishbowls another born in New Orleans cocktail of epic portions, meaning it's served in an actual fish bowl , they won't tell what's in it but it's strong and fruity and you can get it refilled for 5$ I suggest sharing one as they really are huge and to get your moneys worth you want to refill it at least twice. One last goodbye to Bourbon street snap a few pics at the sign yeah it's super touristy but you try resisting the urge to . A quick stop into the house of Voodoo for talismans because why not . Then back to the hardwoo.
There is time for one last lunch before we pack up the hardwoo drop Lulu at the airport and we all go our separate ways. For this we go to Magazine street another up and coming neighborhood struggling to compete with the French quarter and proudly apart from it local boutiques handmade clothing and gifts, new age restaurants, specialty coffee houses and Lillies Vietnamese restaurant
home to reasonably priced giant portions of delicious comfort food a fitting place for our last meal in the city.
This has been a long one I know but as I said in the title this city has it all, to try and put the writhing bursting diverse nature of this city into words without missing anything is surely impossible. I'm sure when I am done here I will think of a dozen things I've left out of failed to convey the awesomeness of but I've done my best thanks for bearing with me.  

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