Confession: I have no idea what that means. What is easy…in this context?
After a quick, low-quality hotel breakfast I drove the final 30 miles toward New Orleans. About halfway there, as I approached Lake Ponchartrain, light rain began to fall. As I stopped to fill up my rental car’s gas tank, the rain got much more intense. Then the lightning began. It stopped right about as I pulled into the rental car office. Problem solved.
I am staying in a room within a private home which I found on AirBNB. It is about $60 a night versus the $200-300 that all the downtown hotels area, and the $300-400 that French Quarter hotels are. It’s possibly because there are a ton of conventions happening in addition to it being Fashion Week, Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (a big deal), and probably others as well. My place is just downriver from the French Quarter in the “Marigny Rectangle.” It’s actually very convenient – about ten minutes walk to the primo music street, Frenchmen Street, which is actually several blocks from all the fuss on Bourbon Street.
I pulled up in the taxi after getting a mini tour from my driver, Al, who also offered to pick me up at 4am for my return flight Tuesday. The home owner (a younger, Portlandish guy) was waiting, showed me my room, and then headed out the door. PotentialIy, one of the best things to happen to me on this trip will be to have stayed in a room with A/C. I’ve very happy that I can remove the humidity from my room, even though the weather should be beautiful the rest of the days. I unloaded my belongings in the room and decided to hit the French Quarter. It was about 10:30AM and my only plan at this point was a free walking tour of the French Quarter at 2pm. My host told me that rather than walk to St Claude Street, which was closest to me and what google maps recommended, that I should have a more peaceful walk with more character by going down five blocks to Royal Street before turning. I did this and agreed with him. It is a lovely walk, and along the way I passed a coffee shop called The Orange Couch. It’s a small, indie coffee shop and feels exactly like something from Portland – Heart or Water Street, if you’re familiar with PDX coffeeshops. There is, in fact, an orange couch sitting in the center of the space, amidst all the other furniture. I made sure to enjoy my americano from this couch. I discussed things I need to do while in NOLA with the barista and her #1 recommendation was to get invited to a crawfish boil. Hmm.
After coffee, I walked a few more blocks and came upon Frenchmen Street, the trendy street full of jazz clubs. During the morning hours, it seemed to be a shell of what it must be like later in the evening. I’m definitely coming back to experience it. Frenchmen St. turns into Decatur, which is basically the street that parallels the river. I was hungry for lunch and the first store I noticed in passing was Central Grocery. This is where the Muffaletta was created in 1906 and I planned to try it. The muffaletta is made on muffaletta bread (a Sicilian sesame bread) filled with mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella, provolone, and marinated olive salad. Central Grocery is a small (but packed with lots of products) Italian market that has a food counter. The line was out the door, but after about 15 minutes in line, I had my sandwich wrapped to go. Next door was a local market so I went in and grabbed a beer. Yes, at noon. Don’t judge. The bottle was opened and it was served to me in a paper bag, with a plastic cup over it. New Orleans city law allows for open containers in public places, except for safety reasons, alcohol has to be in a plastic container. I crossed the road, walked up to the bank of the Mississippi River and walked barges and steamers go by as I ate and drank. The drizzle began again.
After this, I pretty much just wandered down city streets for a while and arrived in the main square for the start of the 2pm Free Tours by Foot French Quarter walking tour. It was drizzling and grey as this was happening, as it had been most of the morning. I am reminded that people people in different regions do things differently – I was wearing a lightweight fleece but I was offered umbrellas by various people multiple times. The rain was light enough that I wouldn’t even have considered using an umbrella or a raincoat, for that matter. In waiting for the start of the tour, I conversed with the two groups of people not wearing the trashbag-style rain coats that I saw by the hundreds, and found out one group was from Washington while the other was from northern California. We joked that the way to tell who is a tourist in New Orleans is to look at who is wearing a trashbag. The locals seem to either use an umbrella or nothing. This two hour tour was fun and very informative – it was lead by an Aussie who moved here nine years ago.
Here’s where more alcohol enters my picture! The tour conveniently ended at the French Market – the original shopping center, or trading post, if you will. I stopped in Molly’s At the Market for their famous Frozen Irish Coffee (in a “to-go” cup). On my not-so-short list of things to do is Happy Hour at Domenica, in the Hotel Roosevelt. I’ll be heading back there to visit the Sazerac Bar, home of the Sazerac cocktail. For now, though, I needed a Domenica gourmet pizza, at half price. I sat at the bar, had a lovely chat with the two bartenders ( I probed them about all the Amari they had on the shelf), then with the guy to my left who is a deepwater engineer for Shell, then with a lady from Massachusetts who is here for an international education program convention. I think that’s the official name for studying abroad. Her margarita pizza looked really good; I may be coming back here! It seems like New Orleans might be more of a “major” city than I imagined – there are at least five conventions happening simultaneously this week, plus much of the offshore industry works here, I guess. At Domenica, I had a beer…..and also two Fernet and Cokes. They nicely complimented my gourmet pizza topped with braised carrots, beets, goat cheese, and hazelnuts. I took half of it to go. This is a highly recommended spot for happy hour and it’s in a really fancy hotel (a Waldorf Astoria) – a 12″ gourmet pizza for $7 is a steal. Note to self: purchase Fernet Branca immediately upon arriving home. After dinner, I took a walk around the French Quarter starting down Bourbon Street. It seemed to turn into craziness right as the sun was going down at 7pm. It small, contained, and only several blocks long but it is much crazier than Las Vegas. The excitement is probably how I imagine New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but in this case tons of strip clubs, tons of places playing loud music and selling “big ass drinks” in commemorative plastic containers, tons of bachelor and bachelorette parties (it was obvious), and tons of homeless-looking people totally drunk. All that action seems to be only on Bourbon Street. As soon as you turn a corner, it’s gone. Later before bed, I finished that pizza.