DAY TWO – NEW ORLEANS
I promised myself I’d finish describing my trip to New Orleans, so here we go, albeit my memory is slightly more foggier now, but I’ll do my best. You might want to back to re-read my last New Orleans post to see where I was.
The continental breakfast ends at the early hour of 9am, so I set my alarm to some gross hour of 8am. Surprisingly, I don’t feel so bad considering all the travel I’ve done and that it’s 6am back in Vancouver.
I turn on the TV and watch it in bed for a few minutes before I go and start my morning ritual. It takes me about half an hour to get decent and put on my clothes for the day. I head on down to the lobby and into the conference room where they’ve set up breakfast. Two tables have been set-up with the food. As far as continental breakfasts go, it’s pretty crappy. There are no croissants nor muffins. There are these tiny, bite size pastry thingies, most of which are too sweet for breakfast. A few are muffin-like, so I grab those. There are bagels, but I don’t go for those. To drink, there is the standard coffee and hot water for tea. I go for the orange juice.
I grab my selection and sit down. I am the only there. Complimentary copies of USA Today are at each table. I take one and start reading and eating. I prefer local papers because I could be one of millions of people in any city reading the exact same USA Today. I imagine it’s cheaper for the hotel to get USA Today though.
I finish up breakfast and head back on up to get the rest of my things for the day. The plan is to go on a two-hour walking tour of New Orleans. Armed with my trusty travel guide and camera, I hit the street. It’s barely past 9:30am and I can feel the heat already. It is going to be a hot day.
I have to be at this cafe in the French Quarter to meet the tour guide at 10:30am. There are no reservations, it’s just whoever shows up. I have no idea how many people will be there. It’s early, so I make my way to the French Quarter and just start looking around. I go into various shops that feature tacky items, specifically designed for tourists it seems. I find one that is large, slightly more classy than the others, and more importantly, well air-conditioned.
In this store, I find any number of souvenir-type goods. I discover a stack of preserved alligator heads, all frozen in one last open-mouth pose. The teeth are still sharp. $10 US for a small head, $16 for a large. Along a wall, I spy various hot sauces. There are two themes when it comes to the packaging of these hot sauces. One plays up the “fire out of the anus” angle. Here, there’s invariably some cartoon label of some poor dude, who’s consumed the contents of the bottle, with fire coming out of his rear. The second theme attempts to equate the spicyness of the sauce with the sexiness of a girl on the label. Several labels feature erotically drawn cartoon women with large breasts. A few even go as far as working the act of fellatio into the selling of hot sauce.
I browse through the numerous strands of beads in the other part of the store. The more expensive strands feature plastic toys on them; some are mermaids, some are animals, and still others are genitalia (of both sexes).
Time winding down, I head over to Cafe Beignet, to await the massive crush of people who will join me on this tour. I get to the place and there are three customers. As I walk in, they are leaving. Hmmm…. It’s still early, so I decide to partake in my first New Orleans “must-do”. I order some beignets. Beignets are a staple of New Orleans cuisine. There are essentially fried pieces of dough, then liberally sprinkled, nay, covered in icing sugar. My travel guide even goes as far as saying it’s quite acceptable to walk the street with icing sugar down the front of your shirt. Everyone will know and understand the reason for that.
My order of beignets comes up and I go get them. I receive a paper take out container with three square-shaped pieces of dough. It’s covered in icing sugar. There’s also a layer of icing sugar on the bottom of the container. It looks good.
I sit down and take a bite out of one. It’s still warm. The icing sugar hits me. Yummy. I also notice the dough is way heavier than I had anticipated. These are not light and fluffy doughnuts. These are high-density fried goods.
While I’m chowing down, a gentleman enters the cafe. “Who’s here for the tour?”, he asks. I raise my hand. I am the only customer in the cafe and the only one with my hand up.
The tour guide walks over to my table.
“Hmmm… well, we usually take a three people as a bare minimum for a tour. Hopefully, some more people show up.”
I tell him I’m really looking forward to the tour. He tells me that his boss has an unwritten rule that they don’t leave anyone just because the minimum is not met. I am relieved. He also tells me that his boss will lose money on this tour if it’s just me, but that’s the way it is sometimes.
There’s ten minutes to go. We enter into smalltalk in between my bites of my beignets. These things are kicking my ass. They’re heavy and make for the hearty breakfast I didn’t have at my hotel. I manage to finish them right at 10:30am. No one else has come for the tour.
“Alright, saddle up, it’s just you and me my friend.”
Excellent. For the next two hours, I have my own personal tour guide of the French Quarter. I am most pleased.
We go outside and I hand him $10 US for the tour. My UBC student card gets me $2 off. He tells me how the tour is going to go, where we’ll be headed, to get water if I don’t have any (I already do), and to ask questions at any time. With the preliminaries out of the way, we begin the tour.
Our first stop is just across the street. My guide begins his talk. I learn that he used to be a policeman with the New Orleans police department. He was born and raised in the city. He’s personable and friendly. I decide he’s an okay guy.
For the next two hours, we walk around the French Quarter. I get a complete history lesson of the city. It’s better than any book could have described it. At key points, we stop on the sidewalk and he tells me an important anecdote for that street or for a particular building. I take pictures along the way. I see Tennessee Williams’ home where he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. While he describes this to me, a streetcar rumbles by us. This tour was a good idea.
I am taken all over the French Quarter, and before I know it, the time is up. My guide wraps up his history lesson and description of the area. I thank him for his time and effort. I shake his hand and we part ways. I get the feeling that was the best $10 I will have spent in New Orleans.
I make my way back to the area near my hotel. I haven’t had lunch yet, so I duck into this restaurant that was recommended by my travel guide. I order this pasta dish. It has crawfish, mussels, and shrimp. It’s pretty good. I make a note that I still haven’t had jumbalaya or gumbo.
After lunch, I go back to my room and shower. Feeling refreshed again, I examine my choices for the late afternoon. I decided to head towards the Riverwalk Marketplace. Hailed as a premier shopping venue, Riverwalk is also right next to the aquarium and riverboats. If it sucked, I could easily find alternate plans.
While the walk there is short, the heat is stifling in the late afternoon. By the time I get to Riverwalk, I feel like the sun is specifically directing all its rays towards me. At Riverwalk, I amazed at how close it is to the Mississippi riverfront. Before I go in, I walk into this plaza area with fountains that overlooks the river. It’s beautiful. I go right up to the railing and look at the river. I cautiously put my hand on the metal railing. It’s hot enough to cook the proverbial egg.
I decide to go into the shopping complex. The blast of A/C welcomes me with great relief. I browse through all the stores. It’s a decent mall, and I’ve certainly been to worse. Having a view of the Mississippi at all times isn’t bad either. In the end, I don’t wind up buying anything because of the exchange rate. At the end of the mall is the food court. It’s rather large and reminds me of Granville Island. Huge bay windows give diners a view of the river. I’ve just had lunch a few hours ago, but when I pass by a Popeye’s Chicken, I cannot resist.
I order up a meal deal thing and sit next to a window. I’ve always wanted to try Popeye’s fried chicken. It is… disappointing. With my meal done, I decide I’ve had enough of Riverwalk. I notice that I’ve missed the last riverboat tour time already. The aquarium also closes soon. Damn. A quick flip of my guide reveals there’s another shopping mall that closes at 9pm.
That mall is about 14 blocks from Riverwalk. Too far to walk. I’ll need to take a taxi. Where to find a taxi though?
TO BE CONTINUED…