Thursday, May 15, 2014

Whetting Our Appetite in New Orleans, LA

If you've never toured New Orleans, you probably haven't experienced the true pleasure of this decidedly European city in the South. From the food, which truly reflects the overall culture, to the people, to the glorious and sometimes tragic history, New Orleans is overflowing with experiences to be savored. 

It appears we had no concept on chowing down on deliciously unhealthy food -- food that at one extreme, is so unbelievably terrible for you that your cardiac arrest risk has increased tenfold, and on the other hand, is irresistible. As someone who prides herself on eating fresh, healthy and light (excluding desserts, obviously), the culinary delights in New Orleans can knock you into a food coma of bigger magnitude than a Days of Our Lives storyline. 

Most people conjure up images of Mardi Gras mayhem and Bourbon Street debauchery when they think of New Orleans. What you don't know is guzzling Hurricanes and downing daiquiris by the yard are the only ways you can keep fried beignet dough from clogging up your arteries. Body shots can save your life. (Note: I am not a doctor, but I have access to WebMD via an internet connection, watched one season of Grey's Anatomy, as well as possess a slightly ridiculous case of hypochondria.)

Being an epicurean haven, we made the most of New Orleans by eating and drinking our way through the city. Our first stop was the iconic Cafe Du Monde for beignets and caf√© au lait.


Is Cafe du Monde utra-touristy and uber-crowded? Yes. But you don't survive 152 years if you don't have something delicious to offer (or really good WiFi). Plus, if you visit during happy hour on a weekday, you can snatch a seat rather easily. The people-watching is worth every powdery crumb that lingers on your dark clothing as if you were Tony Montana's bestie in Scarface. If you want a fresh beignet without the fuss and some speedy breakfast sandwiches, you can visit Cafe Beignet around the corner.

After all those calories, we were grateful for the free walking tour along the Mississippi River and through the French Quarter provided by the National Park Service

Jackson Square
The statue of Andrew Jackson, commemorating his victory in the Battle of New Orleans.
NOLA (Do you think people of New Orleans dislike the nickname as much as San Franciscans hate "San Fran" or "Frisco?") has such a rich, blended history. From its founding by the French in the 1700s, to 40 years of Spanish rule, to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase that established the city as a part of the United States, New Orleans has its own distinctive culture. This is the reason for the city's hedonistic attitude, colorful cuisine and undying spirit. Neither Spencer nor I had visited the city before Hurricane Katrina devastated it, but although the bitter traces of Katrina's ruin are not gone, the energy of New Orleans is alive. Behold: A wedding parade on a rainy day that compelled everyone on the streets to dance along. 


Not that we had to leave our RV park for entertainment. We witnessed our own jazz parade snaking through the park, too! 

Talk about front row parking!
The RV Park location was the best we've ever seen for a sizable city, so we took advantage of biking or walking everywhere in the French Quarter. Perfect for us, when you desperately need some exercise or when you want to responsibly enjoy the chaos on Bourbon Street. 

No BUIs for us.
Once you get sick of listening to the same Journey song over and over again, you can dart over to Frenchmen Street. With its eclectic live music scene, you can hear a variety of jazz, folk and rock music artists. I especially enjoyed the evening craft market, where vendors sell jewelry, art and other handmade goods. 


Once we grew tired of walking, we hopped aboard the St. Charles streetcar, which transported us uptown to the beautiful plantation-style mansions near Tulane University and Loyola University.

Don't you dare call it a trolley. 


I wouldn't mind foreclosing on this sucker. 
It's incredible to see how the other 99.5% lives -- meaning those who don't live full-time in a house on wheels. I'm terrified that Ellie will find out that most dogs have backyards. From these stunning homes, we took the streetcar to the National WWII Museum, which has a reputation for being one of the finest historical museums in the country. 


The museum certainly didn't disappoint. It held particular interest for Spencer since his grandfather is a WWII veteran who recently celebrated turning 89 years young. Happy birthday Dick! Judging from its exterior, you can see the museum is massive. It's possible to spend an entire weekend here, roaming from one exhibit to the next. We were astonished to see the propaganda launched by both the Allied and Axis powers. The museum clearly presents the war as being fought on two geographically separate fronts -- the European and Pacific theatres -- one of the unique aspects of WWII. 

Our hunger for war history wasn't satiated yet, so we stopped by the Chalmette Battlefield, where the last great battle of the War of 1812 was fought. 

The scene of action with the Chalmette plantation in the background.
 
One of the ramparts where soldiers blasted impending enemy forces
Although some considered this battle unnecessary, as the treaty ending the war was signed in late 1814, the war continued into 1815. The date of this battle, January 5, was often celebrated by Americans similarly to today's Fourth of July merriment for this great victory over the British. 

The Chalmette Monument honoring the troops
Nearby the battlefield, you can pay tribute to veterans of several wars at the Chalmette National Cemetery.


Although the cemetery is primarily a resting place for Union soldiers killed during the Civil War, there are veterans from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War and even four men from the War of 1812. 

I could think of far worse places to spend the rest of your days. 
Whatever your pleasure, be it food or drink, music or dancing, history or culture, New Orleans is sure to satisfy your cravings. After a few days away, you'll be left hungry again. 

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